Conviction of Andjilo: a first warlord trial and a decisive first step

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Bangui - Paris, 22 January 2018 – Our organisations welcome today’s sentencing of the former Anti-Balaka warlord Rodrigue Ngaibona, aka "General Andjilo", to life in prison. With the help of a collective of lawyers, our organisations supported many of his victims before the Bangui Criminal Court. The charges did not cover all of the crimes he allegedly committed, but the imminent establishment of a ”hybrid” tribunal, the Special Criminal Court, should make it possible to shed light on other crimes committed by Andjilo and his cohorts, and to bring to trial other Central African warlords.

FIDH and its member leagues in the Central African Republic welcome the Bangui Criminal Court trial of Andjilo that led to the first conviction of an Anti-Balaka leader since the events of 2012. The accused, who has denied all the charges – calling them acts of "self-defence" – was found guilty of a series of crimes committed in Bangui and on the Bouca Road (300 km north of Bangui) between October 2014 and January 2015.

Found guilty of multiple murders, criminal conspiracy, armed robbery, false imprisonment and illegal possession of firearms and munitions of war, Rodrigue Ngaibona was sentenced to life imprisonment with forced labour. In reality, this verdict means a sentence of/equals to life in prison, as sentences of hard labour are no longer meted out in the Central African Republic, highlighting the need for a reform of the justice system, especially of the criminal code.

“This is probably only a first conviction for General Andjilo, since the charge covered only some of the crimes he allegedly committed”, noted OCDH President Maître Mathias Morouba. “Andjilo may well be held accountable for other acts, which, where applicable, may be classifiable as war crimes and crimes against humanity before the Special Criminal Court”.

The collective of lawyers represented Andjilo’s victims throughout the proceedings that commenced in 2015. Admittedly, it managed to find some weaknesses thereof, specifically in the prosecution’s case and concerning the protection of victims and witnesses, some of whom refused to participate in the proceedings for fear of retaliation. These weaknesses, however, are inherent in the state of Central African judicial system after years of conflict and the coming into operation of the Special Criminal Court (CPS), a mixed tribunal consisting of Central African and international judges, which should make it possible to try with complete independence and according to the rules of fair trial the main perpetrators of international crimes committed in Central Africa in recent years and to help restore the rule of law there.

In addition to his sentence of life imprisonment, Rodrigue Ngaibona was ordered to pay damages to compensate the losses suffered by the civil parties. He must also pay one symbolic franc to the human rights defender organisations that filed suit together with the victims, a sign of the will of the Central African justice system to recognise the importance of the victims and the associations that support them.

“In a country where automatic appointment of lawyers is provided only for the accused, the participation of the collective of lawyers along with the civil party greatly enhanced the proceedings and made it possible to conduct a fair trial, in which the right to legal aid, of the perpetrators and the victims alike, was respected” recognized Joseph Bindoumi, President of the LCDH.

The fight against impunity is a major challenge in Central Africa, which for a year has experienced a resurgence of violence by armed groups against civilian populations, despite the presence of over 10,000 UN peacekeepers. Originating from the former Seleka rebellion, which overturned the government in April 2013, or the Anti-Balaka self-defence groups formed to combat them, these groups continue to control much of Central Africa and to commit grave human rights violations.

With respect to the action by FIDH, LCDH and OCDH in the Central African Republic: With support from the European Union, our three organisations have been conducting since 2015 a project called To Support the Struggle against Impunity in the Central African Republic, which is documenting serious human rights violations in Central Africa and supporting the victims of those violations before the courts. They have a joint office in Bangui and many intermediaries throughout the country.

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Twitter : @AudreyCouprie

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