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Appeals court sets aside death sentence for Ugandan soldiers convicted of killing Somali civilians

Friday October 14, 2022


Mogadishu (HOL) - Two UPDF soldiers sentenced to death for killing eight civilians in Mogadishu, Somalia, have had their sentences reduced by an appeals court.

Captain Charles Asiimwe and Corporal Edison Bwambale were among the five Ugandan soldiers convicted of seven counts of murder by a General Court Martial sitting in Mogadishu in November 2021. 

Asiimwe and Bwambale were sentenced to death, while the remaining three soldiers - Corporal Alexander Babu, Lance Corporal Phillip Ichumar and Private Kerere Tushemereirwe - were each sentenced to 39 years in prison.

The court martial came at the request of an AMISOM team sent to investigate the murder of 10 innocent civilians in Lower Shabelle's Golweyn area.

The trial court found that seven civilians were arrested after the Ugandan military reportedly found an IED in the road. Under the orders of Asiimwe, the civilians were shot dead, and their bodies were blown up with explosives.

At the time of the murder, AMISOM portrayed an entirely different story, saying that seven Al-Shabaab fighters were killed by Ugandan forces while attempting to ambush the troops as they patrolled the main supply route between Beldamin-Golweyn. It added that an "assortment of weapons was recovered" from the battle scene.

A little over two months later, AMISOM conceded that its peacekeepers unlawfully killed seven civilians in Somalia, promising that the soldiers responsible would be held accountable.

However, the army appellate court in Kampala set aside the death sentence on Wednesday,  ruling that the penalty had been excessive. 

Instead, Capt Asiimwe and Cpl Bwambale were sentenced to a 20-year jail term. With time already served, the two disgraced soldiers will face another 19 years and three months behind bars.

Justice Elly Turyamubona said the previous judge failed to consider that the killings occurred during a military operation.

"We have considered the circumstances under which this offence was committed. The appellants (soldiers) were operating in very difficult circumstances, and there were some attacks on the UPDF soldiers. Indeed this court has taken judicial notice that some of our soldiers had lost their lives at the hands of Al-Shabab and their collaborators, making it difficult to tell who an enemy is or not in such circumstances where enemies impose as innocent civilians." 

Turyamubona added that "the trial court might have been influenced by the reaction or riots" if the court failed to impose the death sentence.

The appeals court also reduced the sentences of Cpl Ichumar and Pte Tushemererwe to 16 years, saying that the two men were following directives from their commanding officers, which should have been accounted for as a mitigating factor while sentencing.

Corporal Babu was freed by the appeals court, noting that prosecution witnesses did not implicate Corporal Babu in any of the civilians' murders.  


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