- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

KAMPALA, Uganda — The country’s consti-tutional court struck down the imposition of mandatory death sentences last week but rejected an appeal by death-row inmates to outlaw capital punishment.

In a 3-2 decision on Friday, a five-judge panel of the country’s second-highest court said laws that mandate the death penalty as punishment for certain crimes are unconstitutional and must be rewritten.

The slim majority said various provisions on mandatory death sentencing were inconsistent with the constitution and interfered with the discretion of judges in dispensing justice.

“Courts are compelled to pass the death sentence because the law orders them to do so [but] not all the offenses can be the same,” Justice Galdino Okello said in the majority opinion ordering parliament to amend legislation.

“It is the duty of the judiciary to impose any sentence after due process,” Justice Amos Twinomujuni said in a concurring opinion.

All five justices, however, rejected the inmates’ argument that the death penalty was unconstitutional “because it is given by the laws as punishment after due process,” Justice Okello said in the majority opinion.

Human rights lawyers representing the appellants said they were disappointed that the death penalty had not been outlawed but expressed satisfaction at the rejection of its mandatory application.

“Death row prisoners can now seek redress in court to reconsider their cases, which was not possible before,” Livingstone Ssewanyana of the Uganda Human Rights Initiative told Agence France-Presse outside the courthouse.

He added that he and his colleagues would study the ruling for an appeal.

A senior government official who spoke on condition of anonymity also welcomed the ruling and said he did not think the government should seek the reinstitution of mandatory death sentences.

“The ruling was very good. It moves Uganda toward international standards where death sentences are no longer administered,” the official said.

More than 400 death row inmates appealed to the constitutional court in January, arguing that capital punishment amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that is prohibited by the constitution.

The penalty is carried out by hanging in Uganda. The 417 prisoners said that those sentenced to death often had to wait in torment for unreasonable lengths of time before execution.

The justices did agree with the inmates that the implementation of death sentences should not be delayed as they have been in the past, in some cases up to 20 years.

“The sentence should only be delayed by two years to allow the executive to exercise its prerogative of mercy or the inmate to seek redress from the court,” Justice Okello said.

Justice Twinomujuni suggested in his ruling that although the death sentence is constitutional, sentences of life in prison might be a better alternative. In Uganda, life imprisonment effectively means incarceration for 20 years.

Meanwhile in Europe, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, was reported to be seeking arrest warrants, for the head of Uganda’s rebel Lord’s Resistance Army and one of his deputies, Le Monde, the French daily, reported Saturday.

Quoting unidentified court sources, the newspaper said the warrants name LRA leader Joseph Kony and another rebel official whose identity was not revealed.

The warrants, the first since the court at The Hague was established in 2002 to prosecute war crimes and genocide, must be approved by the world court’s judges before they can be issued, Le Monde said.

Mr. Moreno Ocampo said in April he could suspend, but not drop, planned prosecutions of LRA rebels to promote peace moves with the Ugandan government.

“I will stop but I will not close,” he said after talks with northern Ugandan officials. “Timing is possible but immunity is not possible.”

The LRA has been fighting President Yoweri Museveni’s secular government since 1988, ostensibly to replace it with one based on the biblical Ten Commandments. The rebellion has killed tens of thousands of people, mainly civilians, and displaced more than 1.6 million.

The LRA is notorious for its brutality against the civilian population in the region, who have been killed, maimed or abducted. Many of those kidnapped are children pressed into service as soldiers or sex slaves.

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