On March 30, 2015, Ugandan prosecutor Joan Kagezi was shot while traveling home to the Kampala suburb of Jajjera. The circumstances surrounding her death and the high-profile cases she was involved with at the time got international attention. The talented attorney is being mourned by those who knew her and admired her work and dedication to justice. The investigation into the shooting is ongoing. Here are 12 reasons you should care about slain Ugandan prosecutor Joan Kagezi.
Sources: VitalVoices.org, Monitor.co.ug, UgandaRadioNetworl.com, LongWarJournal.org, AllAfrica.com, BBC.com
Since earning her diploma in legal practice, Kagezi worked as a public servant for the Ugandan government. She began as a land officer in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, before moving to the job of state attorney in the Ministry of Justice in 1994. In August 2007, she was promoted to principal state attorney, a job she held until January 2015 when she was promoted again, this time to assistant director of public prosecutions and the head of the International Crimes Division.
Among the high-profile cases she worked on, Kagezi tried a case against Thomas Kwoyelo, a warlord in the Lord’s Resistance Army which has been battling the Ugandan government for years. Kwoyelo was tried on charges of kidnapping, murder, rape, human mutilation, and torture. The trial ended when Uganda’s Constitutional Court granted Kwoyelo amnesty — a precedent in the country’s peace negotiations with the Lord’s Resistance Army. Since then, Kagezi and the state have appealed the ruling, arguing that Kwoyelo did not deserve amnesty due to the severity of his crimes. The Supreme Court has yet to deliver a judgment on the matter.
Kagezi was driving her car home to Najjera when she stopped at a roadside stand to buy vegetables in a nearby suburb of Kiwaatule. As she waited for one of her daughters to return with the groceries, a man approached the car on the driver’s side and knocked on her window, appearing to make an inquiry. When Kagezi opened the window, he shot her twice in the neck at close range before jumping on the back of a waiting motorcycle and taking off. Kagezi was pronounced dead on arrival at Mulago National Referral Hospital and eyewitnesses to the shooting are under police protection while they work with authorities to identify the killers.
Kagezi had four children with her late husband, Henry Morton Kagezi, who died in 2006. Both her daughters and one of her sons were with her in the car when she was shot. She had just picked them up from school. None was harmed. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has pledged to pay the children’s school fees.
Several Muslim clerics were recently murdered in the Kampala and Busoga regions of Uganda. Kagezi was involved in the investigation and pre trial for the murders. The circumstances of her shooting are similar to those of the slain Muslim clerics. All were shot at point blank range by men who escaped on motorcycles. Police investigators found bullet cartridges at the scene similar to those used against the clerics.
The ADF is considered a terrorist organization, and has been responsible for multiple attacks and killings in Uganda in recent years, including the Muslim clerics. Ugandan authorities believe Islamic extremists killed Kagezi due to her role as a senior prosecutor in international crimes and terror cases, often against those accused of jihadist attacks.
In July 2010, twin bombings took place at the Ethiopian Village Restaurant and Kyadondo Rugby Club in Kampala, killing 79 people who had gathered to watch a World Cup soccer final on TV. Kagezi was lead prosecution against those charged in the bombing including 12 men linked to an Al-Shabaab unit named after a deceased al Qaeda operative.
In light of her death, the prosecution in the case asked for an indefinite postponement on the terrorism trial until Kagezi can be replaced. Mike Chibita, director of public prosecutions, said, “She is the only one we had when it came to international crimes. There are other state attorneys but we shall miss her expertise. She was well known even in the international criminal court. That you cannot just replace immediately.”
Jamal Kiyemba, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, was arrested in connection with Kagezi’s death. American government personnel assisted Ugandan police forces in an operation that resulted in the arrest of several suspects including Kiyemba, who was first detained by Pakistani authorities following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. He was transferred to U.S. custody and was detained at Guantanamo Bay until February 2006, when he was transferred back to his home country of Uganda. His role in Kagezi’s death is unknown.
Kagezi was meticulous with details in the cases she tried, and would not stop until she achieved the conviction she was looking for. According to Principle State Attorney Jane Kajuga, a close colleague of Kagezi, “She would study documents in detail and analyze all facts critically, then she would proceed to sanction the charge or if not convinced, she would send the case back to the police to do more investigations.”
According to insider sources, Kagezi had sat for interviews with the Judicial Service Commission before her death, presumably for an appointment as a high court judge in the near future. Former secretary of the Uganda Law Society, Nicholas Opiyo, spoke about the potential appointment, claiming that Uganda had been robbed of a good judge. “Her commitment to public service was second-to-none. I will miss her.”
At the time of her death, Kagezi was under no police protection, despite information of possible threats in Uganda – the country has been a target of Al-Shabaab since contributing peacekeeping troops to the African Union to combat terrorist activities in Somalia. Since Kagezi’s death and the recent massacre at the university in Garissa, Kenya, police and military presence in Uganda, particularly in the capital, have increased greatly.