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Trial of ex-LRA rebel Thomas Kwoyelo kicks off in Gulu

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The trial of Thomas Kwoyelo, a former commander of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), has kicked off at the International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High Court in Gulu.

The defense has lined up fifteen witnesses to defend Thomas Kwoyelo, led by Evans Ochieng. The witnesses will defend him against 78 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Submissions by the witnesses are expected to be completed within three days, before the three-judge bench delivers their judgment within three weeks.

Kwoyelo’s trial resumed on April 17, 2023, at the International Crimes Division of the High Court (ICD) sitting at Gulu High Court in Gulu City, Northern Uganda; however, it stalled due to a lack of funds.

Having commenced the trial on September 24, 2018, the court had its first prosecution witnesses testify in March 2019, and since then, trial sessions have been held periodically between Kampala and Gulu.

Kwoyelo is grappling with 78 of the 93 counts of murder, aggravated robbery, extensive destruction of property, causing serious injury to body or health, and inhumane treatment, rape, and torture, among others, that he is alleged to have committed against the civilian population of northern Uganda, southern Sudan, and the northeastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Kwoyelo was abducted by the LRA on his way to school in 1987, remained in captivity, and later became a colonel.

The worst attack of the paramilitary group that was under the leadership of Joseph Kony occurred in Haute-Hele Province (DRC) in December 2008, the so-called Christmas massacre, where over 200 people were killed and over 800 houses razed down.

The rebels split up into groups to attack the villages of Faradje, Batande, Duru, Bangadi, and Burgi. They waited until people had gathered for Christmas festivities, then surrounded and killed them with axes, machetes, and clubs.

In March 2009, Kwoyelo was injured during hostilities between the Ugandan army and the LRA in the DRC and brought into Uganda for medical treatment and subsequently into custody.

His trial, however, commenced in July 2011. Before ICD, a division of Uganda’s High Court Constitutional Court resolved that the suspect’s trial should stop as it found grounds for the failure by the DPP and the Amnesty Commission to act on Kwoyelo’s application. In 2015, the Supreme Court decided that Kwoyelo’s trial should resume.

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