Google defines ‘amnesty’ as an official pardon for people who have been convicted of political offences (noun); and a grant an official pardon to (verb). Amnesty is sometimes confused with immunity. The two concepts are similar but different. This week, we will briefly look at amnesty.
Recently, a parliamentarian, Nakawa MP, Michael Kabaziguruka applied for amnesty before the General Court Martial chaired by Lt. Gen. Andrew Gutti. The politician and eight others (soldiers) face charges of intent to prejudice the security or interests of Uganda, acts of treachery, infiltration into the army and participation in activities classified as war like against the country.
Here is a brief account of amnesty as provided in Uganda’s Amnesty Act, Chapter 294 of 2000:
‘Amnesty’ in the Act means ‘a pardon, forgiveness, exemption or discharge from criminal prosecution or any other form of punishment by the State;’
A reporter is a person applying for amnesty under the Act.
Who is entitled to amnesty?
Any Ugandan who engaged or has engaged in war against Uganda from 26th January, 1986 or to date. That person may have been a direct participant in combat, collaborated with perpetrators, committed other act/crime to further the conflict or assisted the war or armed rebellion.
A person in any of the above categories is not prosecuted or punished whether he/she participated or aided the war or rebellion. This is the meaning of amnesty.
How can a Reporter apply for amnesty?
Report to the nearest army or police post, a chief, a member of the executive committee of a local government unit, a magistrate (hopefully, this also applies to a judge) or a local religious leader (within reach).
The Reporter must renounce and abandon any personal or related connections, and involvement in the war or armed rebellion.
The Reporter must surrender any weapons in his/her possession or control to the place or person he/she has reported to.
The Minister of Internal Affairs will issue a Certificate of Amnesty to the Reporter.
However, the Act specifies different practices for a Reporter already in custody or one facing criminal charges, like the Parliamentarian. It provides that the Reporter will be assumed amnestied if;
That Reporter declares his/her intention to apply for amnesty in this Act;
That Reporter declares that he/she has renounced the activities of war or armed rebellion he/she was involved in and is charged with;
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is the authority allowed to certify the Reporter amnestied and only until the DPP does so, the Reporter cannot be released from custody.
If the Reporter is already charged, the DPP will grant him/her amnesty if he/she renounces the activities he/she was involved in during the war or armed rebellion. The same applies to Reporters living outside (of) Uganda.
Additionally, Reporters living abroad must report to any Ugandan diplomatic mission, consulate or international organisation that the Government of Uganda authorizes to receive those Reporters.
Certificate of Amnesty:
This is the only conclusive evidence of one’s grant of amnesty. It literally proves that the Reporter fulfilled all the requirements to be granted amnesty. It is validated by the stamp of the Minister of Internal Affairs.
Often, persons granted amnesty face challenges while re-integrating into society. They may be rejected or shunned by family or society and sometimes forced to return to or collaborate with previous comrades.
This is where the Amnesty Commission, a body of Government, steps in. Its major roles are to monitor, mobilize and resettle and re-integrate Reporters.
The Commission has programs aimed at rehabilitating Reporters, reconciling Reporters with communities and encouraging dialogue and sensitization policies about amnesty.
In conclusion, whatever the DPP decides, the Parliamentarian and co-accused have established a famous precedent for the system and any outcome may affect the future applicants’ and general public’s outlook on amnesty. We only hope that it will be for justice and a proper legal system.
This article was written by our Feature Columnist, Atuhairwe Agrace, for our weekly law newsletter, The Deuteronomy. To contact Agrace, write to her on firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive The Deuteronomy in real time, click HERE.