Thomas Kwoyelo

25.04.2016 ( Last modified: 07.06.2017 )
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Thomas Kwoyelo was born in Pabbo, northern Uganda. He was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) on his way to school in 1987. He remained in captivity and later became colonel.

The LRA is a paramilitary group under the leadership of Joseph Kony. It was formed in 1987.

Members of the LRA are alleged to have committed serious crimes such as murder, rape and torture directed against the civilian population of northern Uganda, southern Sudan and the northeastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

One of the worst attack of the LRA took place in Haute-Hele Province (DRC) in December 2008, the so called Christmas massacre. The rebels split up in groups to attack the villages Faradje, Batande, Duru, Bangadi and Burgi. They waited until people had gathered for Christmas festivities, then surrounded and killed them with axes, machetes and clubs. The estimated death toll ranges between 189 (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) and 620 (Human Rights Watch). The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 225 people, among them 160 children, were kidnapped and more than 80 women raped. At least 800 houses were burned. Witnesses stated that some people had their lips cut off as a warning.

In March 2009, Kwoyelo was injured during hostilities between the Ugandan army and the LRA in Ukwa, DRC. He was taken to Uganda for medical treatment and subsequently into custody.

legal procedure

In June 2009 Kwoyelo was charged with crimes under Uganda’s penal code. In addition, he was charged with grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, pursuant to Art.147 of Uganda’s 1964 Geneva Conventions Act in August 2010, including willful killing of civilians, taking of hostages, extensive destruction of property, causing serious injury to body or health and inhuman treatment.

In 2010 Kwoyelo applied for amnesty under the Amnesty Act, which was passed by Uganda’s government in 2000 and offers impunity for rebels who denounced rebellion. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Amnesty Commission did not act on the application.

On 11 July 2011 his trial opened before the Uganda’s International Crimes Division (ICD), a division of Uganda’s High Court. On 22 September 2011, the Constitutional Court of Uganda decided that Kwoyelo’s trial should stop as it found no reasonable grounds for the failure by the DPP and the Amnesty Commission to act on Kwoyelo’s application.

On 23 November 2011, Kwoyelo filed a complaint to the Ugandan High Court in Kampala requesting to be amnestied. Nevertheless, the DPP denied his request in February 2012. 

On 8 April 2015, the Supreme Court decided that Kwoyelo “was properly indicted and charged before the International Crimes Division of the High Court” and allowed his trial to resume.

Kwoyelo appeared on 1 February 2017 before the court in the capital, Kampala, for the start of the preliminary hearings.

Kwoyelo is indicted on 93 counts, including murder, rape, defilement, destruction of crops and property, recruitment of child soldiers and other crimes against humanity.


The trial of Thomas Kwoyelo is the first domestic war crimes case in Uganda, and the first LRA prosecution.


The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is a rebel group formed in 1987, which operates mainly in the northern Ugandan region of Acholiland from bases established in southern Sudan.

The LRA is led by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed spirit medium who claims to have received the order to form the LRA from the Holy Spirit in order to liberate the people of Uganda “from corruption, sins and immoral thinking“. Whereas Kony’s exact political goals remain unclear, he is said to aim at erecting a Ugandan theocracy based on the Ten Commandments.

While the LRA is not in a position to destabilize the Ugandan government, it has for 18 years terrorized the civilian population in northern Uganda. The LRA has its origin in an uprising of the Acholi people against the south-Ugandan Yoweri Museveni, which started after the latter overthrew the then President Okello in 1986. However, Joseph Kony did not gain the lasting support of the Acholi and was soon forced to retreat into Sudanese territory. Feeling betrayed by his own people, he has since then directed most of the LRA’s attacks against the civilian population of the Acholi.

The main characteristic of the LRA is that it is made up of up to 85% of children between 11 and 15 years of age. To fill their ranks, LRA troops systematically abduct children, using them as soldiers, porters and sexual slaves. According to estimates, some 20’000 children have been abducted. The abducted children are often forced to kill their own parents to destroy any prospect of returning home. To deter the abductees from trying to escape, the LRA force the children to kill those who tried to escape.

The LRA is responsible for widespread abuses against the civilian population. They have killed tens of thousands of civilians, and many more are said to have died as a result of hunger and disease caused by the conflict.

The LRA’s soldiers are notorious for maiming alleged collaborators with the government by cutting off their hands, lips and ears. As a result of their looting and destroying whole villages, up to three quarters of the Acholi people have been forcibly displaced.

Some observers claim that the Sudanese government was supporting the LRA, because Uganda allegedly supported the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the rebel movement which fights the Sudanese government. However, in a 1999 bilateral agreement, the two governments vowed to stop supporting the rebel groups.

Also based on a bilateral agreement with Sudan, the Ugandan government may pursue LRA rebels on Sudanese territory, but only up to a “red line“, which is marked by an overland-road about 100 km into the country.

On 10 October 2005,however, the Ugandan government reported that Sudan had given them free reign, during one month, to pursue the LRA anywhere across the border.