THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC TRIGGERS THE ICC JURISDICTION: FIDH calls for the Prosecutor to open an investigation

As the trial of former President Ange Félix Patassé before the Bangui Criminal Court was postponed sine die on 22 December, FIDH recently learned that the Central African Republic (CAR) has referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) the matter of « war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on [its] whole territory since 1 July 2002. »

FIDH welcomes the referral to the ICC, calls upon the ICC Presidency to assign the situation to a Pre-trial Chamber, and urges the Prosecutor to open an investigation immediately.

FIDH had asked the Prosecutor to open an investigation proprio motu with relation to the situation in CAR, since 13 February 2003. This was done on the basis of the information gathered by an international investigative mission [1] conducted by FIDH. The mission had uncovered several hundred cases of rape, summary executions and systematic acts of pillaging committed during the attempted coup d’Etat by General Bozizé in October 2002. All these crimes fall under the jurisdiction of the Court.

FIDH notes that the referral comes only a few days before the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for February 2005, the timing thus being very opportune for the President. However, FIDH considers that the ICC involvement in the CAR situation is essential to bring effective independent justice that respects victims as well as the right of suspects to have a fair trial.

Indeed, FIDH considers that – in spite of the opening of a Criminal Court trial in Bangui against leaders of the former regime – the Central African government has neither the will, nor the capacity to render justice to the victims of crimes committed in CAR according to the criteria defined by Article 17 of the ICC Statute. [2] The declining judicial apparatus does not allow for an independent and efficient justice system in CAR. Moreover, there is currently no prosecution under way for those allegedly responsible for war crimes among the former rebels led by General Bozizé. Finally, the new regime has still not adopted any law to implement the ICC Statute into Central African legislation, particularly considering the definition of crimes and cooperation between the national judicial system and the Court.

Confirming this analysis, the ongoing trial against former dignitaries is an example of summary justice that does not respect the right to a fair trial as provided for by international instruments for the protection of human rights.

FIDH recalls that according to the 16 December 2004 ruling of the Chambre d’accusation of the Appeals Court of Bangui, "the blood crimes, rapes, murders, destruction of property, pillaging... that followed the events of 2002 of which Ange Felix PATASSE, Jean-Pierre BEMBA and his men, Paul BARIL, Martin KOUMTAMADJI alias Abdoulaye MISKINE and his men, Lionle GAN-BEFIO, Victor NDOUBABE and his men and other, are accused [...], fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court."
Therefore, FIDH insists on that the ICC Prosecutor put to work the international criminal justice system, in order to prosecute all individuals, "rebels" as well as "loyalistes", especially those who bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes committed.

FIDH recalls that, according to the principle of complementarity included in the ICC Statute, CAR remains primarily responsible to prosecute those responsible for crimes, including members of the former rebel groups led by General Bozizé. Only through joint action by independent and impartial domestic and international criminal justice systems can the victims of crimes committed in CAR be heard and receive reparations for the harm they have suffered.

The possibility of actual justice being made in CAR also gives hope for the numerous cases of human rights violations that have been perpetrated with impunity by law enforcement forces ever since General Bozizé came to power.

FIDH’s international investigative mission to Bangui from 11 to 19 December 2004 was able to establish that extrajudicial executions are carried out with at least the inferred agreement of the highest State authorities, under the pretext of fighting crime and insecurity. These official murders, explained by lack of funds for the police and lack of effectiveness for the justice system, are usually clumsily covered behind an argument of self defense.

In its quarterly report in November 2004, the United Nations Peacebuilding Office in Central Africa (Bureau de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en Centrafrique - BONUCA) had already pointed to this phenomenon. The Office had received many testimonies and pieces of information on the violation of the right to live, as well as on summary and extrajudicial executions.

FIDH urges the ICC Prosecutor to immediately open an investigation on the international crimes committed in CAR since 1 July 2002, by the former loyalist forces of Patassé and by the former rebel troops of General Bozizé. It also calls upon the Prosecutor to inform the Presidency of the Court of the referral made by the Central African government, so that it can assign the situation to a Pre-trial Chamber, in accordance to Regulations 45 and 46(2) of the Regulations of the Court.

FIDH also reminds the Central African authorities of their commitment to propose legislation to implement the ICC Statute into domestic law, including provisions on the definition of crimes falling under the jurisdiction of the Court, the general principles of international criminal law (including abolition of the death penalty), and provisions on cooperation between the different organs of the Court and CAR. FIDH also reminds of the authorities’ obligation to cooperate fully with the ICC in order to allow for investigations to be carried out on the Central African territory, and to respect the rights of victims, especially their right to take part in the proceedings before the Court. Finally, FIDH reminds that the CAR authorities are under the obligation to ensure that an independent and efficient form of justice - respectful of international norms for the protection of human rights - be exercised.

Additionally, FIDH recommends that the French government, the European Union, the UNDP and BONUCA take action before the Central African President, so that he :

 officially and publicly condemns extrajudicial executions and takes all the necessary steps to immediately bring this practice to halt;

 reorganizes the Office central de répression du banditisme (OCRB), which seems to be one of the institutions practising these executions;

 orders investigations without further delay on suspicious deaths following questioning, especially on the one of Stéphane LONKOYE, a Congolese refugee in CAR, who died on 1 December 2004; and

 ensures that a more in-depth investigation is undertaken on accomplices and on those who ordered the crimes allegedly committed by the sub-lieutenant DOGO.

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