A section of Forum for Democratic Change activists have joined the Citizens Rights Bureau (CRB) to demand that government halts the trial of the recent Rwenzori attack suspects in the Military court Martial.
They argue that the trial of civilians under the Court Martial for offences that are outside the purview of the UPDF act is total disregard of the law while at the same time, UPDF is assuming the responsibility of a judge in case where it’s best suited as a complainant.
The suspects were arrested after deadly clashes and simultaneous attacks on security installations in Bundibugyo, Kasese and Ntoroko districts in western Uganda that claimed over 100 lives in July, 2014.
The dead included civilians, soldiers and police officers. Government subsequently said that the clashes were sparked off by Ethnic tensions in the region.
Over 130 suspects were eventually paraded before the general court martial chaired by Major Gen Levi Karuhanga facing charges of murder, attempted murder, illegal possession of fire arms and ammunition for their participation in the attacks.
According to Section 119 of the 2005 UPDF Act, a civilian can be tried in a Court Marital if found in illegal possession of arms, ammunition or any other stores that are ordinarily a monopoly of armed forces or if a civilian abets a member of Defence forces to commit a service offence.
However, several activists, lawyers and opposition politicians have challenged the legality of trying civilians in a military court in line with the ongoing trial. They argue that the suspects will not get justice.
“The court martial has specific mandate to discipline the military, not to administer justice in the country and in this case, the military court will not be impartial because they will want to revenge,” Human rights lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuzi observes.
Similarly, Harold Kaija, an aide to former FDC leader Dr Kiiza Besigye says the move needs to be resisted in order to deliver justice to the persons facing trial.
Kaija is leading the campaign to collect signatures on a petition to the speaker of parliament Rebecca Kadaga. The group has already collected up to 12000 signatures on hard copy and online at http://chn.ge/1uSc2d1 l.
Kaija added that they are concerned about the inhumane treatment accorded to the suspects yet the law states that one is not guilty until a competent court says so. He said court martial is not a competent authority to try the suspects.
But Maj. Henry Obbo, the deputy UPDF spokesman, says there are three areas within which the suspects qualify to be tried, in the court martial; they attacked the military with firearms, they used firearms to kill armed forces and were found in illegal possession of firearms.