Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Michael Kabaziguruka, the former MP for Nakawa Division has welcomed the decision by the Constitutional Court that held that the General Court Martial has no power to try civilians.
Speaking to Uganda Radio Network, Kabaziguruka who in 2016 challenged the constitutionality of the General Court Martial however said he was disappointed that the court ruled that the Court Martial although has no jurisdiction over civilians, it nevertheless is a legal entity that can try people albeit those subject to military rule.
The court’s ruling follows a 2016 petition by Kabaziguruka challenging his trial in the General Court Martial. Kabaziguruka was accused of being found with firearms, a preserve of armed forces. It was said then that he intended to use them to overthrow a democratically elected government of Uganda.
Kabaziguruka was also accused of wanting to kill President Yoweri Museveni. He was arrested and detained for several months before he was produced before the General Court Martial. He not only objected to his being tried at the General Court Martial but also challenged its legality as a court of judicature.
In a majority ruling, Justices Kenneth Kakuru, Remmy Kasule and Hellen Obura agreed with Kabaziguruka saying the UPDF Act was never intended to be an Act of general application. Justices Christopher Madrama and Steven Musota dissented. Kakuru specifically said that the Court Martial has only powers to try members of the UPDF.
“The General Court Martial, therefore, is a specialized Court set up by Parliament to deal with military discipline within the UPDF….it lacks all the tenets of an ordinary Court of law established under chapter eight of the Constitution. The Court Martial is not part of the judiciary. It is part of the executive arm of government established under chapter twelve of the Constitution which provides for the Country’s Defense and National security.
Several attempts by the executive to place the General Court Martial under the same footing as Courts of Judicature has…originated confusion and discord among jurists, legal practitioners and scholars. It is simply trying to fit a square peg in a round hole,” Kakuru said.
The Justices then held that Kabaziguruka’s case and any other person on trial or sentenced by the Court Martial their files be transferred to the Civil Division of the High Court for onward management. However, the court ruled that the General Court Martial can try a civilian provided he/she was an accomplice with a person who is subject to military rule. Asked whether he’s worried that such a provision will be abused to charge civilians under the guise that they were accomplices, Kabaziguruka said he was confident this might not arise.
The National Unity Platform-NUP has also welcomed the ruling by the court. Joel Ssenyonyi, the spokesperson of the party said although the ruling came late after some of their people spent almost six months in custody as the military court declined to grant them bail. Ssenyonyi said that their only worry was the government might refuse to honour the ruling.
In December last year, more than 100 supporters of then-presidential candidate Kyagulanyi Robert Ssentamu were arrested from Kalangala district where he had gone to a campaign. They were kept at different places in Masaka district where they were granted bail.
However, some of them were rearrested and driven to Kampala where they were arraigned before the Gen Court Martial and charged with being found with four bullets. Since then, they were remanded to Kitalya Prison until the mid-last month when they were granted bail.