Central African Republic (CAR) has suffered multiple armed conflicts since 2002. Thousands of civilians have been killed, raped, or otherwise subjected to horrific violence. Many more have had their homes burned or looted, and have been forced to leave for displacement camps. Indeed, war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity have been inflicted on the CAR population by armed groups, the CAR military and their allies. Worse still, very few perpetrators have been held to account for these horrific crimes. People have continued to live in the vicinity of their attackers, forced to endure trauma and the fear of further violence. Most of those who have ordered the worst atrocities have simply continued to go about their lives with total impunity. Some have even been promoted into top positions in government.
Dozens of persons suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity remain at large in the Central African Republic (CAR), said Amnesty International in a briefing published today.
Likewise, there is not even one suspect in pre-trial detention pursuant to an arrest warrant delivered by the Special Criminal Court (SCC) more than three years after its inauguration. The SCC is a hybrid court having jurisdiction over crimes under international law and grave human rights violations committed during a series of conflicts since 2003.
The briefing, ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Backwards: Justice in the Central African Republic’ reveals that, despite the start of the SCC’s work in 2018, very few persons suspected of criminal responsibility have been arrested, prosecuted, or tried. Proceedings to address the needs for justice, truth and reparation are far from enough.
Of the 25 arrest warrants so far issued by the court, only one has been carried out, with the arrest in November 2021 of Minister Hassan Bouba Ali, a former armed group leader suspected by other NGOs of being linked to the killing in 2018 of more than 70 civilians, including children in Alindao. However, he was released by CAR authorities a few days later, without any judicial authorisation.
More than six years after being established, and three years since its inauguration, the SCC is facing difficulties in bringing those suspcted of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law to justice, including because of the non-execution of the arrest warrants it issued. The release of Hassan Bouba Ali is the latest example of the lack of support by political authorities for the Court’s mission.
Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa director.
“Amnesty International calls on CAR authorities and the MINUSCA to take all possible measures to ensure the execution of the SCC arrest warrants and ensure that all those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law and other serious violations or abuses committed since 2003, from all sides of the conflict, are genuinely investigated and prosecuted in fair trials.”
The vast majority of victims and survivors are still waiting for justice, truth and reparation.
A civil society member told Amnesty International:
“…We [need] to see the real persecutors being tried, those who may have been heads of the state or state institutions, and the leaders of rebel groups.”
The SCC was created to fill the accountability gap, as a mechanism complementary to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the CAR ordinary criminal courts. 22 individuals are in pre-trial detention under its jurisdiction, but they were not in fact arrested pursuant to SCC arrest warrants. Charges pending against them are unknown and their identities have not yet been disclosed – except for Eugene Ngaikosset, a suspect arrested in September this year.
The briefing also addresses the lack of transparency in the operation of the SCC.Although the Court will start its first trials this month or early 2022, no information has been made available with regards to the cases or suspects involved. Amnesty International has found that information about the state of ongoing proceedings remains very difficult, if not impossible, to find. Not a single judicial decision has been made public.
No criminal trials in the country in the last 20 months
The briefing also found that CAR ordinary criminal courts have not held any criminal session since 7 February 2020. This means there has not been a single criminal trial in 20 months in a country that, according to its law, should organise a minimum of six criminal sessions per year in its three provinces.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic and the political and security situation in the country in December 2020 and the first half of 2021 have undoubtedly caused delays in the judicial process, these factors alone do not explain the state of lethargy that the justice sector finds itself in.
New military courts should not prosecute crimes against civilians
Amnesty International is also calling on CAR’s authorities to ensure that crimes against civilians are not prosecuted in the newly established military courts which held their first sessions this year. The jurisdiction of military courts over criminal cases should be limited to trials of military personnel for breaches of military discipline and should exclude human rights violations, or crimes under international law.
In September 2021, the Bangui martial court sessions examined its first series of cases, among which there were cases about murder of civilians. These cases should fall under ordinary civilian courts.
“Researchers found that there was no step towards amending the country’s law to ensure the jurisdiction of military courts is limited to military disciplinary matters and, on the contrary, the holding of these sessions was presented as a success in the fight against impunity within the armed forces,” said Samira Daoud.
Amnesty researchers visited Central African Republic in October 2021 and had 35 meetings with 44 people- 33 men and 11 women- from government, civil society, judicial system, including the Special Criminal Court and ordinary tribunals, and staff of the International Criminal Court.
The Central African Republic (CAR) is currently experiencing a human rights and humanitarian crisis of historic proportions. Amnesty International researchers have documented that war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and sectarian killings are occurring as Muslim civilians continue to come under violent attacks from anti-balaka Christian militia groups. The current crisis began in December 2012 when the predominantly Muslim armed coalition Séléka launched an armed offensive against the government of François Bozizé that culminated in his removal from power in March 2013. After gaining power, Séléka forces continued to commit human rights abuses against the majority Christian civilian population including massacres, extrajudicial executions, rape, torture, looting and massive burning and destruction of villages.
Séléka’s leader, Michel Djotodia, resigned from the Presidency on January 10, 2014 after significant international pressure. Séléka forces then began to withdraw from cities and towns throughout the CAR as they retreated back to the northern part of the country leaving a power vacuum which the anti-balaka militia groups filled by carrying out deadly attacks against Muslim communities and civilians in a deadly tit-for-tat that has resulted in a mass exodus of Muslims out of the country. Once vibrant Muslim communities in towns and cities throughout the country have been completely destroyed as all Muslim members have either been killed or driven away. Those few left behind live in fear that they will be attacked by anti-balaka groups in their towns or on the roads. While an African Union peacekeeping force, the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA), supported by French troops, has been deployed in the country since early December 2013, they have failed to adequately protect civilians and prevent the current ethnic cleansing from taking place. The urgency of the situation demands that the international community take all measures to respond to the crisis in the CAR, protect the civilian population, deploy to threatened areas and stop the forced exodus of Muslims from their homes.
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