By Agather Atuhaire
When Joan Kagezi, 47, the Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions at the war crimes division of the High Court, was on March.30 gunned down in front of some of her four kids, many could not hold back tears. It was her boss, Mike Chibita, the DPP, who led the pack amongst her workmates.
“We are going to continue doing the work that was entrusted in us,” Chibita said struggling in vain to hold back tears, “if the killers of Joan thought that they were sowing seeds of fear, instead, they have succeeded in galvanising the army of the legal profession.”
Adding; “It is not because we are super brave but what options do we have when your colleague has been killed for doing the right thing? The battle has been brought to our doorsteps; we won’t run away from it.”
One after another, those who eulogised Kagezi used words like brave, committed, hardworking, determined, and compassionate at the requiem mass to pray for her soul at St. Luke Church of Uganda in Ntinda.
Chibita suggested that the road where Kagezi was gunned down is named after her. And Police Chief, Kale Kayihura, who said she was killed in the line of duty, wants the 48-hour rule that requires police to investigate suspects and have them produced in court scrapped. He says it is too short for the police to gather evidence and find justice for people like Kagezi.
“I know we shouldn’t draw conclusions in order to leave all channels of investigations open,” Chibita said, “but our assumption, just like many of you is that she was killed because of her work.” Kagezi was the lead prosecutor in the case against the 13 suspects of the 2012 twin bomb attacks in Kampala.
Kagezi was also the lead prosecutor in a case, in which Muslim leaders, a Ugandan doctor based in Australia, AgreyKiyingi and several Sheikhs are being accused of masterminding the murder of other Sheiks and fuelling terrorism in Busoga region. Police has not provided any evidence linking Kagezi’s killers to either of the groups. And Kagezi also played lead roles in other high profile cases.
After her shooting, however, it has emerged that she grew more fearful while dealing with the terrorism case at some point confessing to a colleague that she did not feel safe.
Despite her fears, she kept going and maintained a simple life, with no driver, no guards—she was driving with some of her children as she returned from work and had stopped to buy fruits at a roadside stall along Kiwatule Road, when her killer struck.
She was shot infront of her children, who said they had “lost a best friend and a role model”.
“Mummy is the only person I know who had more than 24 hours,” said Perl Priscilla Kagezi, her 16-year old who was with her in the car when she was shot, “I always asked her how she has time for everything and everyone and she told me it is hard work. She would say to me, Pearl, as long as you work hard, everything works out easily.”
Her second born, Carol Milcah Kagezi, broke down as she soon as she had started talking. She said she had lost her best friend and confidant, a woman that endeavoured to give them and be there everything when their father died.
Kagezi’s 11 year old lastborn John Harvey Kagezi said he does not know how to live without his mother. “Mummy, I want you to know there is no single hour that passes without me thinking about you and no single night has passed without me dreaming about you”.
Their eldest brother, 22 year old George Phillip Kagezi promised to be their pillar. “I became a father figure to Harvey when dad died,” he said, “I know even now we’ll pull through because Mum taught us the importance of faith and togetherness.”
He described his mother as very respectful saying that he respected them and consulted them on everything even on matters concerning her work.
Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA) Executive Director, Cornelius Sabiiti who spoke on behalf of the deceased’s friends appealed to friends and family to support Kagezi’s children. She told mourners that Joan’s Children were her whole life and the least that people she loved can do is to take care of them.
She described her late friend as generous, compassionate, humorous, fun loving, and classy.
Kayihura wants the laws of criminal justice amended to help him catch the assailants. He said the 48 hour rule provided for in the constitution favours criminals because it’s not possible to find evidence on a terror case in 48 hours.
“The criminal justice shouldn’t just be reformed but overhauled,” Kayihura told mourners, “criminals take advantage of liberal laws. We will not sleep until those who have taken the life of Joan are brought to justice.”
But Chief Justice Bart Katureebe urged Ugandans not to panic and responding to the call for overhauling criminal justice by Kayihura, stressed the need for caution.
“Let’s all be careful,” said Katureebe, “The people who killed Joan don’t believe in the rule of law.”
Katureebe said that the adversarial system of criminal justice which is practiced here is under review in many other countries, but insisted it should be done without compromising the basic principles of the rule of law. “Let’s not be taken away because then we won’t have paid a perfect tribute to Joan.”
He said that Joan was a professional who took her work seriously and would look for all the necessary evidence to help court reach a just decision.
He empathised with the children of the deceased saying that the pain of losing their mother in such a tragic way before their eyes must be unbearable.
“It’s difficult to imagine the amount of pain, these children, who saw their mother, their only surviving parent shot and killed before their eyes are going through,” Katureebe said. Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, KahindaOtafiire, vowed to do whatever is within his means to bring the culprits to book. “I can assure you assassins,” he said, “we shall look for you in this world and if you go before us we shall look for you in the next.” He described the deceased as smart, articulate, and modest.
The President of the Uganda Law Society Ruth Sebatindira said that her friend and colleague wanted and worked for the best and fairest justice system.
She commended her role in drafting the sentencing guidelines and pre-bargain which she says were in the final stages.
“She has been a key role in the reform agenda of the Justice system,” said Sebatindira, “we have lost a resilient professional, fearless prosecutor and an incorruptible character.”
She said that ULS will put a financial reward to whoever gives police information that can lead to the arrest and persecution of the perpetuators of the heinous crime.
Justice Lydia Mugambe, who moved a vote of thanks to the public for standing with the deceased family told her children to have solace in the fact that they had a mother who lived for them and for Justice in her country.
The government representative Vice President Edward Ssekandi re-assured mourners that government will do whatever is in its powers to bring the culprits to justice. And President Yoweri Museveni has pledged to take care of Kagezi’s children.
However, for many, the central issue that needs to be dealt with is ensuring that prosecutors like Kagezi, who might be targets of hard core suspects facing charges like terrorism, murder and war crimes need to be protected especially given that Uganda like the rest of the region is caught in a war against terror that has made it a target for some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists.