James Pirtle is a trial lawyer and owner of The Sentinel Law Group, PLLC, a Seattle law firm and he is an attorney on the ground for Legal Advocacy Worldwide (LAW), a non-profit devoted to financing direct legal advocacy on behalf of the oppressed abroad, including the state-sanctioned persecution of the LGBT community in Africa. This blog chronicles how his involvement in the defense of Thomas Kwoyelo, a former child soldier in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda, developed into a broad international human rights practice with crusading Ugandan attorney John Francis Onyango. This blog begins with their involvement in the Kwoyelo case and continues with updates and developments in the human rights cases. Read from the bottom up to see how it all unfolds.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Blog Post 19 – A Miscarriage of Justice

Francis met me at my hotel for lunch.  It was excellent seeing him again.  Though work was pressing, we spent most of the lunch catching up.  It’s strange that it has nearly been a year already.  I told him about my encounter with the police and he tells me that a German national Al Qaida operative is on the loose in Uganda which might explain why I got harassed on the way in from the airport.  No hard feelings, I guess.

We walked from the hotel to his office to talk about Kwoyelo.  I’m disappointed that he is not endorsing my plan to confront the DPP (attorney general).  His position is that the DPP has no real decision making authority here.  They are under orders to pursue this case to the bitter end.  Our concern is that the end will indeed be bitter.

I’ve spent the last two days poring over the pleadings, affidavits, and court rulings/orders.  We have the Constitutional Court agreeing with us; in rather strong language directed at the DPP, that Kwoyelo was denied equal protection.  They declined to entertain our request that any statements/admissions made by our client while he was being tortured be excluded.  Their position on that is that the statements/admissions have not been used against him yet so the issue is not ripe.  Nevertheless, they ordered the trial ceased on equal protection grounds and ordered the DPP to issue an amnesty certificate.  The International Crimes Division complied and ceased the trial (which has never technically started).  The DPP ignored the order and appealed to the Supreme Court (which does not have a quorum at this time so they can’t hear any cases – we are number one on appeal).  We therefore sued the DPP in the High Court for unlawful detention.  The High Court agreed with us and also ordered the DPP to issue the amnesty certificate.  The DPP refused and sought a temporary protective order from the Supreme Court to stay all orders until they can hear the case.  To our dismay, the Supreme Court issued such an order.  Kwoyelo is in prison indefinitely.

Caesar Acellam on May 20th, 2012
In mid-May, Caesar Acellam, a senior LRA officer (ostensibly #3 at this point), was “captured” in a heavily patrolled region in the DRC.

I quoted "captured" because this looks very much to me like a negotiated surrender.  He  is reported to have said that he fully expected to be granted amnesty.  I found this odd, since he outranks Kwoyelo and volunteered to be in the LRA (keep in mind my client was abducted as a child).  Just odd, all in all.  But then, surprisingly and without warning, the government let the Amnesty Act expire on May 25.  If the reporting is accurate, it expired before Acellam could even apply for amnesty.  Feel free to ignore the portion that discusses Kwoyelo because it is erroneous.

So now what?  We don’t know.   Certainly neither Francis nor I do.  “It appears our man (Kwoyelo) has complicated things greatly for this country,” he says.

What we do know is that it is unlikely that any members of the Constitutional Court will be appointed to the Supreme Court.  The court needs seven justices and as of now has only five.  The Constitutional Court ruled unanimously in favor of Kwoyelo.  That makes them poison pills for the government.  Even if appointed, they would theoretically have to recuse themselves for already having ruled on the case.  Then again, this is Africa, so I don’t know.

It’s increasingly clear that this case will not get resolved for a long time yet, and then not in favor of our client.  I asked Francis what he has told Kwoyelo because I can’t imagine his frustration and confusion.  Francis says he told him that we are working on it but also said he has not been to see him for some time.  I’m going to try to do the prison ministry dance tomorrow so I can get back into Luzira to see him.  But what am I going to tell him?  How am I supposed to help him understand this political bullshit when his life hangs in the balance?  I think my only option is tell him that I will not quit on him and I will fight until the end.  Maybe I’ll come up with something better between now and then but for now that’s all I have.

I am also going to meet with Gabriel Oosthuizen tomorrow morning pursuant to our connecting through Boni Meyersfeld.  Gabriel is Chief of Party for the Uganda Project for the Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG) which is a global pro bono law firm that provides legal assistance to states and governments with the negotiation and implementation of peace agreements, the drafting of post-conflict constitutions, and the creation and operation of war crimes tribunals.  He already told me he likely has a conflict given the Kwoyelo situation but has nevertheless agreed to have coffee with me in the morning.

As I finish tonight, optimism is diminished.