An ex-Séléka at the ICC: Towards equal accountability for crimes committed in Central African Republic


Bangui, Paris, The Hague – As the population of the Central African Republic (CAR) faces a resumption of violence, FIDH, LCDH and OCDH welcome the arrest of Mahamat Said Abdel Kain (“Mr Said”) by the Central African authorities and his transfer, on 24 January 2021, to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Mr Said is the first ex-Séléka to be held accountable for his acts before the judges of The Hague, an important first step towards recognising the responsibility of all sides for the crimes committed in CAR in 2013 and 2014. Our organisations, which have documented the crimes committed at that time, call for the intensification of efforts, both nationally and internationally, to bring justice to the hundreds of Central African victims who are witnessing impunity for the highest perpetrators of international crimes and growing insecurity.

While the trial against the anti-Balaka activists Alfred Yetakom and Patrice-Édouard Ngaïsonna is scheduled to begin at the ICC on 9 February 2021, Mr. Said, a former influential member of the Séléka groups, is the third CAR suspect transferred to the ICC for international crimes committed in the country during the 2013-2014 conflict. An arrest warrant was issued by the ICC (under seal) on 7 January 2019 against Mr. Said, who is suspected of having committed in 2013 in Bangui, war crimes of torture and cruel treatment, and crimes against humanity of imprisonment or other form of serious deprivation of physical liberty, torture, persecution, enforced disappearances and other inhumane acts.

“With the indictment of ex-Séléka Mr Said, the ICC is demonstrating its commitment to trying all parties guilty of massacres and serious abuses during the 2013-2014 conflict in the Central African Republic. While the militias, some already active at the time, continue to sow terror and violence resumes in the country, we hope that this message of the fight against impunity will be heard and will have a preventive effect.”

Albert Panda, President of OCDH

The Office of the Prosecutor has been repeatedly criticised for prosecuting members of only one party to the conflict in the CAR in 2013-2014, as in other situations such as Côte d’Ivoire, when it has repeatedly stated that it will continue to investigate in order to ensure that those responsible for these crimes are brought to justice, whatever side they are on in the conflict. [1] This situation has created much frustration and the image of a two-tiered and even biased justice system. Our organisations had already called on the Court to ensure that members of both sides are prosecuted. By indicting Mr Said, the ICC is sending a clear message to all those responsible for crimes under its jurisdiction that no side will enjoy impunity.

Mr Said is believed to have held many positions of responsibility, notably within the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB), or the Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic (FPRC). During an interview with FIDH in 2013, Mr Said, then commander of the OCRB, explained to investigators that he had joined the ranks of what would later become the Séléka in revenge for the death of a loved one. The following year, FIDH project managers gathered the testimony of a victim who testified to having been tortured by Commander Said’s men.

“The arrest and transfer of Mr. Said is a first step towards establishing the responsibility of the ex-Séléka in the crimes that our country has experienced. Justice efforts must continue to be pursued to ensure that the highest officials responsible for international crimes are held to account.”

Joseph Bindoumi, president of LCDH

Our organisations reaffirm the need to strengthen investigations into all crimes committed on Central African territory by the ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka groups, both nationally and internationally. In the CAR, which now has a specialised court and whose ordinary courts have been particularly active in recent years, it is essential that a solid and positive system of complementarity be put in place to ensure the prosecution of as many people as possible who are responsible for crimes of a national or international nature, some of whom remain in office to this day, and to provide justice to the hundreds of waiting victims.

Currently detained in The Hague, Mr Said will have to appear before the Single Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala during an initial appearance hearing scheduled for 28 January 2021. He may apply for provisional release pending trial. The Office of the Prosecutor (and the next Prosecutor) will need to ensure that sufficient evidence is collected so that the charges against him can be confirmed at the confirmation of charges hearing, the next step after the initial appearance, and a prerequisite for the case to proceed to trial.

Two cases were submitted to the ICC relating to the CAR, which ratified the Rome Statute on 3 October 2001. In both cases, it was the Central African government itself that referred the situation to the Court.

The first referral was made in December 2004 regarding war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since 1 July 2002, throughout the Central African territory and during the conflict. The investigation into this “CAR I” situation was opened in May 2007 and led to the arrest and prosecution of Jean Pierre Bemba Gombo for the war crimes of murder, rape and pillage and the crimes against humanity of murder and rape. After being convicted at first instance, he was acquitted in 2018 on appeal of all charges.

The second referral occurred in May 2014 concerning war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed from 2012 onwards, in particular by the Séléka and anti-Balaka groups, during the resurgence of violence in the territory. The investigation was opened in September 2014. It is from this situation that the case of Mahamat Said Abdel Kani case arises.

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