Saturday, February 3, 2024

Justice Julia Sebutinde returned to the Uganda media spotlight but only briefly this week when she joined Israeli Judge, Aharon Barak to dissent on a case before the International Criminal Court (ICC) by South Africa against the State of Israel for its ongoing near-genocidal war on Palestinians in Gaza Strip most of them children, women and male civilians, and destruction of hospitals, schools and energy. 

Some Ugandans are literally ‘mad’ that Sebutinde cannot ‘see’ the indiscriminate and disproportionate ground, sea and aerial military annihilation, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has rained on unarmed Palestinians in retribution for 7 October 2023 Hamas attack that left 1,200 dead and 249 taken hostage and not yet rescued although Israel is touted as a worldwide superior force. Many Ugandans, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs probably expected Sebutinde being Ugandan to have followed government position in condemning Israel’s war, but nay. The Permanent Secretary Vicent Waiswa Bagiire even issued a media statement distancing government from Sebutinde’s court ruling on the case and reaffirmed that Uganda stood by the collective position of NAM and G77 summits in Kampala. 

Many may recall that Sebutinde, then High Court Judge, first appeared on the national political map in 1999/2000 when she chaired the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into corruption and mismanagement in the Uganda Police Force. Her rough questioning of senior police officers among them, then Inspector General of Police John Cossy Odomel, CID boss Chris Bakiza, Director Administration Stephen Onyuu, and Commander Kampala Extra Edward Ochom deemed already guilty by the public eye endeared her to the public, or at least we, the press gallery covering the proceedings in Committee Room C, Nile Conference Centre now Kampala Serena Hotel.

But it turned out that her rough tackle did not yield solid and incriminating evidence against some officers named in rogue criminal behaviour, gunrunning, maladministration, unprofessional conduct or even corruption, and many were left to complete their career often on promotion, which disappointed the public. Some inconclusive matters were referred to the Inspectorate of Government or back to the police themselves for further investigations. Few officers went out of police limelight while a number were retired quietly due to the findings although none faced criminal prosecution and conviction. Although many think that her efforts went to waste, the ongoing reforms in the police force, gradual as they appear, are coming from her recommendations.  

Sebutinde again chaired the 2002 Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) where we expected her to obtain the alleged list of 100 most corrupt officers, but it went in a similar pattern of rough tackle. Instead of methodically interrogating those before her, Sebutinde mostly harangued them with outlandish accusations and those adversely named in her final report ran to the High Court which quashed it, and like Justice James Ogoola’s famous 2006 Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria became hard to implement.

Looking back the days of Justice Porter and George Kanyeihamba on corruption in UWA, Judicial Commissions of Inquiry are overrated. That of Augustus Kania on the cult massacres in Kanungu district by Joseph Kibwetere in March 2002, and C.J Emeritus Bart Katureebe on Appa land in Amuru district haven’t even taken off. Catherine Hakhasa Bamugemereire, now a Supreme Court Judge is well-known having chaired the Tribunal from which Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago was impeached in 2013, and then got UNRA leadership disbanded in 2016 for misusing 4tn. Unfortunately, in both cases, through court, the culprits halted the full implementation of her recommendations. Otherwise, let Sebutinde enjoy her cake at the ICC.