The Central African justice system strongly condemns those responsible for the Bangassou massacre

Press release
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Two and a half years after the violent episodes of May 2017 in Bangassou that caused the death of several dozen civilians and several peacekeepers, the criminal court of Bangui today and after 3 weeks of trial, handed down a much awaited verdict. It heavily sentenced five leaders of anti-Balaka militias: Kevin Bere Bere, Romaric Mandago and Crépin Wakanam (alias Pino Pino), Patrick Gbiako, Yembeline Mbenguia Alpha, as well as 23 other militiamen under their command. Our organisations, the civil parties to the trial, welcome this verdict which demonstrates the growing willingness of the Central African judicial authorities to bring to a successful conclusion first-rate trials against those responsible for the international violence and crimes that have plunged the Central African Republic into mourning since 2012.

Our organizations attended the 3 weeks of trial which took place from Wednesday, January 15, 2020 to February 7, 2020. Following the massacre in Bangassou, they sent a team to investigate on the spot and in Bangui, collecting more than a hundred testimonies from the victims, in order to shed light on this event and support the investigation organized by the Criminal Court. In July 2018, our organizations formed civil parties, appointing 6 lawyers to represent 34 plaintiffs in their request for justice. Some witnesses and victims were able to be present at the hearing to participate in establishing the truth about these tragic episodes.

« With today’s decision, the Central African justice system is demonstrating its commitment to the fight against impunity. However, efforts must continue to ensure that the situation of other victims is taken into account in the near future, as justice remains the last bastion for all victims of ordinary crimes and international crimes. »

Maître Mathias Barthélemy MOROUBA, OCDH president Bangassou's victim's lawyer.

Today, the 5 warlords have been found guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, offences against internationally protected persons, criminal conspiracy, illegal possession of weapons and munitions of war and murder and have been sentenced to imprisonment and hard labour for life. Seventeen of them were sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment and six others to 10 years’ imprisonment, all for criminal conspiracy, illegal possession of weapons and munitions of war and murder.

Kevin Bere Bere, Pino Pino, Romaric Mandago, Patrick Gbiako and Yembeline Mbenguia Alpha, all leaders of anti-Balaka militias, were identified as sponsors of the May 2017 attacks against UNMISSA, the Tokoyo neighbourhood of Bangassou and the siege of the Mosque in which the entire Muslim community had taken refuge for three days. Bere Bere had surrendered to UNMISCA in January 2018 to seek protection from death threats from his former partners following internal rivalries, including from Pino Pino. Pino Pino, together with Romaric Mandago and other indictees, fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo following these events, before being arrested by the Congolese authorities and extradited to Bangui to answer for their actions.

The first two weeks of the trial were exclusively dedicated to the search for the truth and hearings. The defendants and many victims and witnesses were able to be heard publicly and to confront their versions of the facts on multiple occasions. Some video evidence collected during the investigation phase was screened in camera and was crucial in establishing the responsibility of each of the accused.

This sentence is pronounced on the day after the first anniversary of the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in CAR. (APPR-RCA) signed on 6 February 2019, which strengthens the fight against impunity. The trial also comes two years after the Bangui criminal court convicted another militia leader, Rodrigue Ngaïbona, known as "Andjilo". The Central African justice system had already demonstrated its willingness to try the perpetrators of massive violence in the Central African Republic, although only part of the crimes had been covered by the prosecution.

« The ordinary courts have just set an example by judging these international crimes, which reassures us about the fight against impunity. The SPC, which has started its investigations, will give more weight to this judicial fight, which we hope will no longer allow those most responsible for serious crimes to stand outside the justice system. »

Joseph BINDOUMI, LCDH President

« It is now essential that the authorities continue to support the important efforts launched in the fight against impunity in order to bring to justice the many other perpetrators of the conflicts in the Central African Republic, both anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka, and that the Special Criminal Court can take over from the Criminal Court by ensuring that all perpetrators of serious violations are prosecuted and tried" said Drissa Traore, Secretary General of FIDH. "We finally hope that the many victims will be able to benefit from reparations for the damages they suffered. »

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