Its been a worrisome week indeed with the spectre of military might always hanging above our heads.
The story is of a woman who shot her soldier husband because he threw out of the house for being HIV positive and he is negative. The discordancy is bad enough, the murder is worse, but the shocker is that she, a civilian, was tried before a military court martial, based in a small upcountry town.
Now in Uganda if you use military weapons to commit a crime, in this case an AK-47, then you can be tried in a military court. The initial target of this legal state was armed thugs who were running amok in the early part of this decade.This woman was married to a soldier, used a military owned weapon on an army base, to kill a soldier…her husband.
With the highly militarised state that Uganda has become, it was not unexpected that the influence of the military would be extended into the realms of civilian justice. Does it make it right? I say no.
I can only imagine what the burden of proof required to convict is and what is the quality of both the judicial bench and the military advocates/ prosecutors. If the standard of general functions of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces is anything to go by then God help you if you get caught in this steel web.
The civilian courts are not perfect, but they do have safe guards: capital crimes are restricted to the high courts, there is open access for the public and the media, the cases are not concluded in mater of days and executions do not follow swiftly afterwards.
I am sure the court martials do offer safeguards, on paper, but do they do so in practice. And isn’t it plain wrong to try a civilian in a military court, under military rules regardless of the crime committed. It is an instrument open to abuse and can be resorted to by those in power who may want to achieve a certain judicial verdict (just ask kizza Besigye). And now president Museveni wants the court martials to cover corrupt officials too, ‘regular courts waste alot of time seeking evidence.’ True, but isnt it true that the police arrest you first and the do a shoddy job investigating the crime?
The woman in question has been sentenced to death, extenuating circumstances not withstanding. Some gender activists have raised the alarm about the judicial process in question and have, for their trouble, been branded as sympathisers of a murderer.
My question is whether this state of affairs, civilians tried in military courts, can be challenged in the constitutional court?