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THE TRIAL OF THOMAS KWOYELO: OPPORTUNITY OR SPECTRE? REFLECTIONS FROM THE GROUND ON THE FIRST LRA PROSECUTION

Abstract
ABSTRACT

The trial of Thomas Kwoyelo – the first war crimes prosecution of a former Lord's Resistance Army fighter, and the only domestic war crimes prosecution in Uganda at the time of writing – has been packed with drama, intrigue and politics. The article considers what Kwoyelo's trial means for those most affected by the crimes he allegedly committed, and, more broadly, what it means for the ‘transitional justice’ project in Uganda. The article is concerned primarily with how the trial has been interpreted ‘on the ground’ in Acholiland: by local leadership; by those with a personal relationship to Kwoyelo; by direct victims of his alleged crimes; and by those who were not. Responses to the trial have been shaped by people's specific wartime experiences and if or how his prosecution relates to their current circumstances – as well as by the profound value of social harmony and distrust of higher authorities to dispense justice. We conclude with a discussion of the relevance of our findings for the practice of ‘transitional justice’ across the African continent.

RÉSUMÉ

Le procès de Thomas Kwoyelo, le premier pour crimes de guerre d'un ancien combattant de la LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) et le seul pour crimes de guerre en Ouganda au moment de la rédaction de l'article, a été riche en péripéties, en intrigues et en politique. Cet article examine ce que signifie le procès de Kwoyelo pour ceux qui ont été le plus affectés par les crimes dont on l'a accusé et, plus généralement, ce que signifie le projet de « justice transitionnelle » en Ouganda. Il s'intéresse principalement à la manière dont le procès a été interprété « sur le terrain » dans l'Acholiland : par les dirigeants locaux, par ceux qui avaient une relation personnelle avec Kwoyelo, par ceux qui ont été directement victimes des crimes dont on l'a accusé et ceux qui ne l'ont pas été. Les réactions au procès ont été influencées par les expériences personnelles spécifiques de la guerre et par la mesure dans laquelle les poursuites à son encontre se sont rapportées à leurs circonstances actuelles, ainsi que par la profonde valeur d'harmonie sociale et le manque de confiance dans la capacité des autorités supérieures à exercer la justice. L'auteur conclut par une discussion sur l'intérêt de ses résultats de recherche pour la pratique de la « justice transitionnelle » sur le continent africain.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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