UGANDA.— On Monday, Uganda held its first war crimes trial with the official charging of Thomas Kwoyelo, a commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army accused of nearly 50 civilian murders during the 20-year civil war between the LRA and Ugandan forces .
Kwoyelo was arrested in March 2009 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a sweep by regional forces against the LRA rebels.
Kwoyelo was charged with 53 counts of willful killing, hostage-taking, destruction of property and causing injury. The charging document read, “All attacks were either committed by him or were carried out with his full knowledge.” Kwoyelo is accused of leading several village raids and killing and abducting civilians in northern Uganda between 1992 and 2005.
“The rebels brutally tortured the women. The accused then ordered his forces to kill all the elderly captives … The rebels embarked on a fatal assault of the captives using guns, clubs and axes,” the charging document reads.
Yorokamu Bamwiine, Uganda’s principal judge, explained, “justice must be done and it is there to be done … This is regardless of who wins or who loses.”
“Domestic war crimes prosecutions are essential to ensuring perpetrators of serious crimes committed during the conflict in northern Uganda do not escape justice,” said Elise Keppler, a member of the Human Rights Watch justice counsel, “But trials must be fair and credible and witnesses need adequate protection. This first trial before the International Crimes Division will test whether these standards are being met.”
Annet Anywar, a resident of Gulu was both shocked and elated by Kwoyelo’s arrest, “I never thought any of the rebel leaders could be brought to face charges… But instead of apologizing, he denies, which annoys me.”
Fighting between the LRA and Ugandan forces claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, with close to two million people displaced in its aftermath.
Though the war ended in 2006, Kony and his top commanders have continued to elude authorities, continuing to commit atrocities in several neighboring countries.