What is Central African Republic’s Special Criminal Court ?

Press release
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Saber Jendoubi / AFP

1. What is the Special Criminal Court ?

The Special Criminal Court (SCC) is a special jurisdiction within the Central African justice system created by Act No. 15.003 of 3 June 2015 to investigate and bring to court serious human rights violations and violations of International Humanitarian Law committed on the territory of the Central African Republic since 1 January 2003, as defined by the Central African Penal Code and by International Law.

The Special Criminal Court project follows the establishment in April 2014 of a Special Investigation and Instruction Unit(“Cellule Spéciale d’Enquête et d’Instruction”, CSEI) to investigate serious human rights violations and prosecute the persons responsible for these crimes.

Created for five years (renewable), the SCC will focus on the most serious crimes, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, and will have primacy over ordinary national jurisdictions.

The maximum sentence that the judges of the SCC will be able to pronounce will be life imprisonment, in accordance with the provisions of the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to which the Central African Republic has acceded since 2002; and abandoning the death penalty, which has not been applied since 1981.

2. Why is the implementation of the SCC crucial ?

Justice for serious crimes is an imperative for a successful political transition and a truly sustainable peace in the CAR. The impunity that has plagued the CAR for several decades has, and continues to cause, the commission of further serious violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law. Thus, fair and just trials would not only be an obligation to victims who have suffered atrocious crimes but would also send a strong signal that serious crimes will no longer be tolerated. The SCC will also play a crucial role in the process of national reconciliation, which can not happen without justice.

3. What is the composition of the SCC ?

The SCC will consist of an Instruction Chamber, a Special Prosecution Chamber, a Trial Chamber and an Appeals Chamber, as well as an Office of the Special Prosecutor and a Registry.

The draft law provides for an international component to provide the necessary expertise in a complex judicial area and to support national magistrates in difficult and dangerous investigations.

Thus, the Special Criminal Court will be presided by a Central African magistrate and the Special Prosecutor will be an international magistrate. A presence of international judges is also provided, sometimes in a majority and sometimes in a minority, among the examining magistrates and in all the chambers of the court.

Thus, the SCC will be composed of 25 judges, 13 nationals and 12 international judges, as well as a special judicial police unit.

4. When will the SCC be operational ?

On 14 February 2017, Congolese Magistrate Toussaint Muntazini Mukimapa was appointed Special Prosecutor. Colonel of the Congolese Armed Forces, this military magistrate became First Advocate General of the High Military Court before occupying since 2003 the position of Director of cabinet of the General Auditor of the Armed Forces of the DRC. On 30 June 2017, the Special Prosecutor and five national magistrates were sworn in before President Faustin Touadéra (see photo).

The Court is expected to begin its investigations in December 2017 for technical reasons, notably to set up the procedure and evidence rules, finalize the selection of the Judicial Police Officers, and for other international judges to set up in Bangui and take the oath.

5. What is the rôle of the SCC in relation to the International Criminal Court ?

The Special Criminal Court remains complementary to the action of the ICC since the latter was seized by the Central African authorities on 30 May 2014, and on 24 September 2014 the ICC Prosecutor announced the initiation of an investigation into the crimes under its competence committed since 1st August 2012 on the Central African territory. With the ICC focusing on the prosecution of senior officials, the Special Criminal Court will investigate and prosecute dozens of other perpetrators of serious human rights violations committed since 2012.

6. Amnesty or not ?

Article 3 of the SCC Act states that "The Special Criminal Court shall have jurisdiction to investigate, prosecute and try serious human rights violations and serious violations of International Humanitarian Law committed in the territory of the Central African Republic since the 1 January 2003 "and that "crimes within the jurisdiction of the Special Criminal Court are not subject to limitation". The SCC therefore does not recognize amnesties enacted after 1 January 2003.

However, with the conflict continuing, voices are calling for an amnesty for certain combatants, in particular to support the process of reconciliation. This idea was strongly rejected by the conclusions of the National Consultations at the grassroots level and by the Bangui Forum in 2015. In April 2017, about fifteen civil society organizations reaffirmed this position against any general amnesty guaranteeing impunity for alleged perpetrators, co-perpetrators and accomplices of serious and massive human rights violations in the country. This position was also supported by Prosecutor Toussaint Mutazini Mukimapa a few days after his arrival in the country in June 2017.

7. How is FIDH supporting the process of implementing the SCC ?

FIDH and its partner organisations, LCDH and OCDH, have ben documenting serious human rights violations in the Central African Republic since the beginning of the crisis, through two reports : « They must all leave or die », June 2014, and « The international community must help the country surmount the current chaos », September 2013, and through numerous notes and press releases.

Counselling and advocacy
As early as 2014, FIDH has advised the Central African Government on the establishment of theSpecial Investigation and Instruction Unit, which foreshadowed the creation of the SCC. FIDH also contributed to the international mobilization for the establishment of the SCC and in particularsupported the process of adoption of a Memorandum of Understanding between the UN and the Central African Government concerning the creation of SCC in August 2014. FIDH, along with its member organisations, also supported theprocess of negotiating and adopting the SCC legislation, which was approved by the National Transitional Council in March 2015.
FIDH also conducted several advocacy missions to the United Nations, pointing to the need for a special criminal court. FIDH will continue to urge the international community to provide the necessary funding for its rapid implementation and its functioning in the years to come.

Representing the victims before the SCC
In June 2015, FIDH initiated agroup of NGOs and a group of national and international lawyers whose mission is to provide legal and judicial support to victims of serious violations of their rights and to represent them before the SCC. It is within the framework of this support that FIDH inaugurated on 9 March 2017 ajoint FIDH-LCDH-OCDH office in Bangui.

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