MBARARA – There was free drama at Gatete Primary School playground in Kisoro district on Thursday after the Uganda People’s Defence Forces – UPDF Court Martial had handed a 38-year-old soldier a life in prison sentence for murder – but without any compensation to the victim’s family.
Pte Hamis Walimbwa was handed a relatively harsh punishment after pleading guilty of killing a civilian and attempting to murder a colleague.
Pte Walimbwa pleaded guilty to shooting and killing of Zepherine Nizeyimana, 18, after a disagreement at an entertainment centre in Nyarubande village, Rukundo Town Council, in June last year.
Walimbwa, who is attached to the Kibaya Army Detachment at the Uganda-DR Congo border, also shot his colleague Pte William Achia who had intervened to calm him down as tempers flared.
Walimbwa was subsequently arrested and detained at the UPDF 2nd Division headquarters in Mbarara until his appearance before the Court Martial held at Gatete Primary School playground in Kisoro district on Thursday. Col Rogers Kitwala, the chairman of the UPDF 2nd Division Court Martial presided over the special sitting in Kisoro.
Walimbwa pleaded to both counts of murder and attempted murder – earning a practically harsh punishment of life in prison.
The deceased’s lawyer, Winfred Nakasinde told the court that Walimbwa’s act warranted him to be out of society for good because it was serious and grievous in nature.
According to Nakasinde, Walimbwa contravened the roles of UPDF and the constitution, which mandates soldiers to protect civilians and their property.
But, Walimbwa’s lawyer, Mark Okondi pleaded with the court – reasoning that at the time of the act – both Walimbwa and Nizeyimana were intoxicated. He prayed that Walimbwa is given a lenient sentence since he was a first time offender – capable of reforming.
Walimbwa also asked the court to pardon him arguing that he accidentally released a bullet after Nizeyimana attempted to disarm him. He was asked to explain why he went to the bar with arms yet he had not been deployed to provide security there and why he frogged Niyeyimana before the shooting him. However, he acknowledged that this was a mistake.
Col Kitwala jailed him for life on murder charges and another life imprisonment on attempted murder charges, sentences which will be served concurrently at Ndorwa Government Prison in Kabale district.
Kitwala also apologised to locals on behalf of the army over the act. In Uganda, legislation does not define ‘life imprisonment.’ However, the 2006 Prisons Act provides that, for the purpose of remission, life imprisonment means 20 years‘ imprisonment.
But, immediately after the judgment was delivered, relatives of the deceased protested the ruling describing it as unfair since it does not involve compensation. Four of the relatives sat before the court-martial and asked the armed personnel to shoot them. Under the law –the court Martial could not constitution itself into a prostitution arm –awarding damages without any legal basis in a criminal matter.
Relatives argued that sentencing Walimbwa without dismissing him from the army means that his salary will continue to be released and received by his family yet Nizeyimana’s mother who would depend on money mobilised by his late son is now struggling. They demanded that the army hands over Walimbwa’s ATM card to them so that they start receiving his salary or else the army commit itself to compensating the deceased’s family.
Kisoro RDC, Haj Shafiq Ssekandi tried to calm down the enraged relatives in vain, prompting him to call for an urgent closed-door meeting with the family. After the meeting, Ssekandi told journalists that they had resolved that his office will sit with the family and write to the army requesting compensation – which step doesn’t have any legal backing.
Additional reporting by URN