Uganda Judges On Strike

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For the first time in 44 years since Uganda's attainment of independence, the Judiciary yesterday laid down tools over gross infringement on its independence by the Executive.

"All judicial business for all the courts in Uganda is suspended with effect from March 5, 2007," announced the acting Chief Justice, Ms. Laetitia Mukasa Kikonyogo, who addressed the media yesterday at 7:00pm.

The judges cited "The repeated violation of the sanctity of the court premises, disobedience of court orders with impunity and the constant threats and attacks on the safety and independence of the Judiciary and judicial officers."

The declaration was triggered off by the fresh raid of the Kampala High Court premises by the police and military on Thursday to re-arrest the six suspects granted bail by the court. This was the second raid in less than two years, the first having taken place on November 16, 2005 by the infamous Black Mamba military unit.

Other grounds were: The savage violence exhibited by security personnel within the court premises, the total failure by all organs and agencies of the state to accord to the courts assistance as required to ensure effectiveness of the courts…and the recognition that judicial power is derived from the people, to be exercised by the courts on behalf of the people in conformity with the law, the values, norms and aspiration of the people of Uganda.

They demanded for an apology from the executive for the events, an assurance that the incidents would not be repeated and that the Judiciary would continue to operate as an independent body. In the whole day crisis meeting, the judges from all courts also agreed that criminal proceedings should be opened up against the security personnel responsible for the raid that caused violence and contempt of court.

Mrs. Kikonyogo, said the judges' decision had nothing to do with the re-arrest or re-charging the PRA suspects. She said judicial officers from the rank of chief magistrate and above would meet on March 9 at the High Court in Kampala to chart the way forward as well as issue a comprehensive statement on the events.

Earlier in the day, FDC leader Kizza Besigye yesterday emerged, at about 2 p.m., from a meeting with party officials and representatives of foreign missions in Uganda to recount what he called "horrific" events on Thursday. At the FDC Villas in Najjanankumbi, he described the state's refusal to honor bail granted to six PRA treason suspects as "an ongoing expression of the breakdown of the rule of law in this country".

Some FDC MPs and representatives of the British High Commission and the Irish Embassy were in attendance as Dr. Besigye told the media that : "We are going to ask the citizens of this country to stand up and challenge the assault…on the constitutional order in this country ".

Col. Kizza Besigye, who is also charged with treason but is out on bail said, "What has been happening confirms that the office of the Director of Public Prosecution has completely been compromised. We surely cannot have a person in this country under the title of DPP." He said that constitutionalism had become "irrelevant and inoperable" in Uganda.

The lay down of tools by the judges follows the defiance of the state on several court rulings involving the PRA suspects. Justice Ogoola described the 2005 Black Mambas raid as "the ugliest and most lethal of these attacks and "Siege of the High Court".

The incident happened right after Justice Ssempa Lugayizi had granted the then 22 suspects bail. Justice Ogoola made the comments during the 2006 Judges Conference.

"The siege constituted a very grave and heinous violation of the twin principles of the rule of law and Judicial independence. It sent a chilling feeling down the spine of the Judiciary, and left the legal fraternity and the general public agape with disbelief and wonderment," Justice Ogoola said.

Another incident violating the Judiciary was the disrespect by the state to continue charging the suspects in the Military General Court Martial despite the Constitutional Court pronouncing itself that the trial was illegal, as was their continued detention in Luzira prison.

However, Thursday's incident was the final straw that broke the camel's back. Over 50 men in police uniform descended onto the High Court demanding to re-arrest the six suspects. Justice Eldad Mwangusya had just granted bail to the suspects.

On his part, Mr. Oscar Kihika, the new president of the Uganda Law Society expressed concern, saying that Thursday's events were a show of disrespect to the independence of the Judiciary.

"We also express grave concern over the manner in which one of our member (Kiyemba Mutale) was assaulted by a security official. We disapprove of that. We implore that this officer be brought to book," Mr. Kihika said.
It was not possible to get to Attorney General Khiddu Makubuya since his phone was off.

In a related incident Makerere University students yesterday went on a sit down strike demanding the release of the suspects. The students refused to attend lectures saying the cause of their study stands in tartars.

They have threatened not to go back to class until when the remaining PRA suspects are released. Makerere University Guild President Gerald Karuhanga called the siege and re-arrest of the suspects a violation of the human rights. When Daily Monitor visited the university, the faculty of Economic, Arts, Social Sciences and Technology were all closed.

Reported by Solomon Muyita, Hussein Bogere, Rodney Muhumuza, Tabu Butagira, Lydia Mukisa, Jude Lugya, Steven Kibuuka, Sam Amanyire and Risdel Kusasira

(Source: The Daily Monitor.


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