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“At no time did I kill anyone”

Sandwiched between three maroon-uniformed prison guards in the country’s International Crimes Division, sitting in Gulu, northern Uganda, after being expelled from Luzira maximum security prison, near Kampala, Thomas Kwoyelo appeared composed, attentive and confident, often correcting your Luo language translator. . His defense statement was written in his native language. He followed his legal team’s work paragraph by paragraph, appearing organized and coherent. This contrasts with previous appearances, during which he appeared less confident, distracted, and less attentive.

Court sessions began at 10 a.m. local time before a four-judge panel headed by Michael Elubu. Ugandan criminal lawyer Caleb Alaka and three other lawyers formed his defense team. The prosecution is led by William Byansi, along with two other attorneys. The victims are represented by three lawyers led by Robert Mackay.

Kwoyelo’s defense presentation was heard before the presentation of his defense witnesses, who will be cross-examined by the prosecution in court. Earlier this year, prosecutors filed charges against him. Kwoyelo, the first and only commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to be tried by a Ugandan court, faces 78 charges, including murder, looting, cruel treatment, violence against life, attacks on the dignity of humanity, torture, rape, slavery, imprisonment, kidnapping with intent to murder and aggravated robbery.

“The LRA had its own rules”

A court clerk began recounting Kwoyelo’s earlier testimony about the LRA administration led by the elusive Joseph Kony, himself under an order from the International Criminal Court. “The LRA had its own rules,” the court quoted him, and he nodded affirmatively.

“They gave girls to mothers (within the LRA) who had small children, to act as babysitters. The orders (within the LRA command) on how the kidnapped girls would be distributed among the families would come from Joseph Kony himself,” Kwoyelo added. “The kidnapped young women had to carry bags belonging to the mothers of the small children.”

“Her duties were not limited to taking care of children. They could also be trained in military matters, since in the bush a fight could break out at any moment,” Kwoyelo said of the kidnapped girls. “Every time a fight broke out in the bush, not only the men fought, but the women also joined in, so they acted as wives and soldiers.”

Sexual slavery: “not me”

The court clerk called two prosecution witnesses who testified that Kwoyelo oversaw kidnappings and sexual slavery by LRA commanders. But Kwoyelo denied it. “It was not my responsibility, since he was in charge of the infirmary. I had no responsibility in the kidnapping or distribution of girls,” Kwoyelo told the court.

“At that time, I was a junior officer, so it was not my responsibility to snitch on anyone,” he said in response to testimony about a 1996 sexual slavery incident in which he was allegedly involved. “I don’t know these two witnesses. I note here that one of them was kidnapped in 1997, the other, according to records, was kidnapped in the year 1996. These witnesses were assigned to the commanders’ houses,” Kwoyelo said.

It was not until 1999 that Kony gave him orders to “round up all the women and girls whose husbands had died in battle in Uganda and take them to Sudan.” “So when I got to Sudan, I went and handed over all those widows to Joseph Kony. When I handed all those women over to Joseph Kony, he went and anointed them by dipping them in the river and shaving their hair,” Kwoyelo said.

“After anointing them and shaving their hair, he (Kony) ordered that for between six and nine months no one should engage or court them, and anyone who did otherwise would face a firing squad,” the court secretary quoted him as saying in a statement. former. testimony.

Kwoyelo nodded his approval. “It is true, I like Kwoyelo, after these widows were anointed I was able to get one in the year 2000. Among the people I married, God blessed me. I was able to have children with them. That’s why even when I was before this court, those women brought the children here and shared with me some of the problems they have. The biggest challenge these women shared with me is that the children are in schools and I, as a parent, am not there to help with school fees,” Kwoyelo explained.

“I don’t deny that I was with these girls as my wives,” he said. “These girls were kidnapped when they were young but had become women. And in case I have acted in error, I ask this court to be kind to me,” she pleaded. “If I am released, I will be able to return and prepare for the well-being of my children. “I also extend this request to the parents of these girls who became my wives,” she said in an apparent plea for clemency from the parents of the kidnapped girls.

“I couldn’t make decisions”

In his own way, during this long week of hearings, Kwoyelo attempted to respond to the long list of other accusations he faces.

On the murder: “I was in charge of the (LRA) infirmary, treating the wounded and nowhere in the battle zone. Kony said that he was supposed to have executed me along with Vincent Otti (his second-in-command), but his spirits told him that the reports that I planned to defect with Otti were not true.”

On looting: “The LRA worked under one command and from the moment I joined I worked under that command and our leader was Joseph Kony. In the army, where I was recruited against my will and by force, I could not make decisions. I had to follow orders, deviating from those orders was death and I had to obey.”

The former LRA insisted several times: “My job was to take care of the sick and get them medicine. The witnesses who have testified against me are liars. His testimonies before this court must be carefully examined as his statements are not consistent. “We worked under a command and everything had to be directed by Kony, not by an individual commander who decided.”

“The court should be aware of the fact that some people they claim I killed are alive and would be called to testify. At no time did I kill anyone,” he stated.

Request to the president

“If possible, I would like to ask this court to send a request to the president who is in charge of this country. Because of the kidnappings by the Kony LRA, I also suffered like many others. I beg the government to release me. Because from the moment I was kidnapped, I have never enjoyed freedom, I have never enjoyed peace, it has been a hard life for me.

“I would appreciate, if I had the opportunity, to be able to meet face to face with the president of this country,” the defendant continued. “He’s a soldier too and I think there are things I could advise him about the military.”

“I also extend my gratitude to the secretary of this court, because she began to show me how I should live a dignified life there. The way I’m dressed in a suit is the way I should behave when I’m there,” she added, pointing her finger outside the courtroom.

“This is where I conclude my testimony before this court,” Kwoyelo said. He then picked up his writing and his reading glasses from the table and took a deep breath. “That’s the end of the defendant’s testimony,” his attorney Alaka said calmly.

According to Kwoyelo’s lawyer, Henry Evans Ocheng, 48 witnesses will be called in his defence, including some of his alleged victims, members of his family and former rebel fighters, some of whom are currently under witness protection. The first of them gave a statement yesterday, May 1.