Uganda chief justice says judiciary not free

[JURIST] Ugandan Supreme Court Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki on Friday said the Judiciary [official website] lacks independence as a result of interference by African governments. At the Southern African Chief Justices Forum in Kampala, Odoki pointed to surveys [Daily Monitor report] by the World Bank and the World Economic Forum [official websites] that rank African countries below other countries with respect to judicial independence. Odoki claims the government's refusal to enforce court decisions and recent attacks on the courts are further indicators of the government's intrusion. Odoki also suggested that inadequate allocation of resources to the judiciary undermine the judiciary's power in relation to the other branches of government. The Chief Justice ultimately called on African governments to make the Judiciary a priority in budget matters.

Judicial independence has been a long-standing issue in Uganda. In March 2007, Ugandan judges initiated a week-long general strike [JURIST report] to protest the siege of the High Court and seizure of defendants by government forces. The judicial strike came in response to a siege of the Ugandan High Court where security agents surrounded the building and arrested six supporters of opposition leader Kizza Besiyge [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] who had been charged with treason but released on bail. The agents beat the suspects and pistol-whipped their lawyer unconscious with a rifle butt, according to witnesses. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni [BBC profile] criticized the Constitutional Court ruling [JURIST reports] that halted the court-martial of Besigye on charges of possessing illegal firearms. Museveni vowed to fight the court ruling politically, even suggesting that a referendum may be used. The International Commission of Jurists [advocacy website] has since criticized [press release] the government for interfering with judicial independence by intimidating lawyers and judges with armed agents.

 

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