Central African Republic : The ICC Opens an Investigation on International Crimes Committed Since 2012

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the opening of an investigation by her office into crimes within its jurisdiction committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) since 2012. Our organizations, who called on the ICC to launch such an investigation, welcome the announcement and encourage the Prosecutor to investigate the responsibilities of leaders of all armed groups involved in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and to work alongside the future Special Criminal Court in the CAR.

"The opening of an investigation by the ICC is the good news that we had wished for in light of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the CAR since the end of 2012. The investigation should cover crimes by the leaders of all armed groups, anti-Balaka as well as former Seleka, to help put an end to this conflict" , said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

The Prosecutor of the ICC has indicated that there is a reasonable basis to believe that crimes of murder, torture, rape, pillaging, recruitment of child soldiers, persecution, and forced displacement – amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity - were committed in the CAR by anti-Balaka and Seleka elements.

FIDH, LCDH and OCDH have documented serious human rights abuses in the CAR since the beginning of the offensive by ex-Seleka at the end of 2012. The latest report from our organisations on the CAR, “They must all leave, or die”, identifies alleged responsible for international crimes committed by both anti-Balaka and former Seleka elements.

In a country which is still divided in two, the anti-balaka and the ex-seleka continue to commit atrocities in a low-intensity conflict context, which is not exempt from peaks of violence, as shown by the fighting that took place during August, in the PK5 neighbourhood in Bangui and the dozens of abuses which have been occurring for several months in the centre of the country. In this context, the opening of an investigation by the ICC must contribute to ending serious human rights violations and to identifying those responsible for these crimes.

"The Prosecutor must keep her promises and conduct inquiries into all anti-Balaka, former Seleka and other armed groups, to identify those most responsible and contribute fully to the fight against impunity. The cooperation of the Central African state, which referred the situation to the ICC, will be crucial as will that of all the states involved” , said Mathias Morouba, OCDH President in Bangui.

In April 2014, the transition President, Madam Catherine Samba-Panza, and her government had created a Special Investigation and Examination Unit (CSEI) mandated to investigate serious human rights violations and to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes. On 8 August 2014, the United Nations and the government of the Central African Republic signed a memorandum of understanding providing for the creation of a Special Criminal Court (CCS), of which the CSEI will form one part, mandated to investigate and prosecute the international crimes perpetrated in the Central African Republic.

"The actions of the ICC, and the CAR justice system, must be complementary. The ICC will only prosecute the most senior officials while the CSEI and the future CCS will prosecute all others. The level of impunity that has been a major contributor to the conflict in the CAR, requires a response that is proportionate with the seriousness of the crimes that have been committed. Both the ICC and the Special Criminal Court will be needed to deliver justice to the thousands of victims who have been ignored for too long” , said Patrick Baudouin, Head of the Legal Action Group (LAG), and FIDH Honorary President.

"We urge the international community to continue its efforts and commitment to the CAR, and to make the fight against impunity one of its priorities. The ICC action is welcome, the Special Criminal Court is essential, and long-term involvement of the MINUSCA in assisting stakeholders in the fight against impunity is important” , said Joseph Bindoumi, LCDH President in Bangui.

Context

The launch of the ICC investigation follows the opening of a preliminary examination by the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC, on 7 February 2014, and responds to a formal referral to the ICC by the interim President of the CAR, Catherine Samba Panza, on 30 May, 2014. On 12 June 2014, FIDH, LCDH and OCDH reiterated their call to the Prosecutor of the ICC to open an investigation into serious crimes committed in the CAR.

The ICC opened an investigation in the CAR into crimes committed in 2002-2003, which led to the arrest and prosecution of Jean-Pierre Bemba, former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for his alleged responsibility for crimes perpetrated by his armed militias in the CAR. The ongoing trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba has been before the ICC since 22 November 2010.

In September 2012, CAR armed groups united in the Séléka coalition launched an offensive in the north of the country. On 24 March 2013, after 4 months of intense fighting, the Séléka coalition, led by Michel Djotodia, took over the capital city Bangui and removed François Bozizé from power, who had himself come to power by a coup in 2003. During summer 2013, pro-Bozizé self-defence armed groups, the anti-balaka, attacked more and more regularly the Séléka and the Muslim populations they are assimilated to. On 5 December 2013, the anti-balaka led a surprise attack coordinated in Bangui on the eve of the deployment of the French forces of the Sangaris operation, authorized by the United Nations Security Council 2127 resolution to help the African forces (MISCA) that could not put an end to the massacre of the civilian populations. On 9 January 2014, under pressure of the international community, Michel Djotodia left power and the Séléka withdrew from the south and west of the country to regroup in the north and east. The anti-balaka militias took advantage of this withdrawal to systematically attack the populations, essentially Muslim populations, which they accused of complicity and support for the Séléka.

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) took up its duties on 15 September 2014, replacing the African forces of AFISM-CAR. MINUSCA must ensure the security, the establishment of the rule of law and the fight against impunity with staff already on the ground, which amounts 7,600 soldiers. This deployment, which corresponds to 65% of the planned number, is expected to continue until April 2015, when the mission should reach the total number of 10 000 soldiers and 2 000 policemen authorized by resolution 2149 voted on 10 April 2014 by the United Nations Security Council.

The conflict in the Central African Republic provoked the displacement of nearly 1 million out of its 4 million inhabitants. Nearly 500,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries. In July 2014, FIDH, LCDH and OCDH published Central African Republic: “They must all leave or die”, Answering war crimes with crimes against humanity, a devastating investigation report that highlights war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been perpetrated in the Central African Republic for months by the anti-balaka and the Seleka. The report also identifies those responsible for this politico-religious conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 victims in the last year and a half. Despite continued abuses and the encirclement of several thousands of Muslims in enclaves by anti-balaka militias, MISCA African forces supported by French forces contributed to swinging the conflict towards a lower intensity phase, and they are now handing over the baton to the UN forces.

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