Uganda: Righting Military Injustice

Aug. 4, 2011, 9:03 p.m.

Righting Military Injustice is a short paper discussing the misuse of military courts to try civilians in Uganda.  The paper provides an overview of the military court structure, describes the prosecution of civilians before the military courts as well as current prosecutions taking place.  The authors provide what the current international law is in relation to civilians going before military courts, and finalizes with a section on ending military court prosecutions of civilians.  Recommendations for fixing the current situation are provided for various segments of Uganda’s society and international donors. Since 2002, when the President created “Operation Wembley” civilians began to be prosecuted by military courts in cases where firearms were used under the premise that civilian courts were unable to adequately prosecute cases leaving criminals to run free.  However, this stands in direct contradiction to international law which “prohibits peacetime prosecution of civilians before military courts”. In 2006, Uganda’s constitutional court also ruled that civilian prosecutions in military courts were illegal.  However, this has not stopped the practice.  There are currently 341 civilian cases within the military court system.

Human Rights Watch is gravely concerned that not only have hundreds of civilians been convicted by courts that did not meet international standards of competence, independence, and impartiality, but that military courts have routinely violated fundamental fair trial rights, such as the right to present a defense, the right against self-incrimination, and the prohibition on the use of evidence procured by torture. Those convicted include civilians handed down death sentences, magnifying the harm to their basic rights from military court trials.

Interrogations by Wembley operatives and its successors have routinely involved incommunicado detention and torture and other ill-treatment. Securing convictions before military courts with evidence obtained through abusive interrogations proved easier. By doing so, the government violated the prohibition on torture, and fundamental fair trial guarantees, such as the right against self-incrimination and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense.

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