CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Urgent need to rebuild justice system as war crime suspects roam free

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13 Jan 2017
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Regional conflict

Individuals suspected of committing war crimes including killing and rape during the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) are evading investigation and arrest, and in some cases live side by side with their victims, Amnesty International said in a new report released today.

The organization is calling for major investment to rebuild the country’s justice system and establish the Special Criminal Court (SCC) to help bring perpetrators to account.

The long wait for justice: Accountability in Central African Republic highlights how dozens of people suspected of having committed crimes under international law have avoided effective investigation and arrest. Efforts to ensure accountability have been hampered by a lack of capacity both within CAR’s government and the UN peacekeeping force in the country.

The justice system in CAR, which was weak before the conflict, was further undermined by the fighting as records were destroyed and legal personnel were forced to flee. There are few functioning courts outside of the capital Bangui, and just eight out of 35 prisons in the country are functional. Detainees are kept in crumbling buildings in crowded and insanitary conditions. Poor security has led to repeated prison breaks.

A national recovery and peacebuilding plan presented to a conference of international donors in Brussels in November 2016 requested US $105 million over five years to strengthen the domestic justice system and operationalize the SCC.

A member of civil society in Bangui told Amnesty International:

“They [suspected perpetrators] live side by side with their victims. They take the same taxis, shop in the same shops, and live in the same neighbourhood. None have been arrested or prosecuted, and such a climate of impunity only reassures the perpetrators.”

The UN peacekeeping force in CAR helped national authorities arrest 384 people for crimes linked to the conflict between September 2014 and October 2016. However, this includes only a handful of high-profile individuals suspected of having committed the most serious crimes, while 130 escaped from prison in September 2015.

This impunity has contributed to a rise in violence since September 2016, including one attack in Kaga-Bandoro in October, in which ex-Seleka fighters killed at least 37 civilians, wounded a further 60 and forced more than 20,000 people to flee their homes.

Recommendations for the Special Criminal Court (SCC)

Important progress has been made in recent months in establishing the SCC, a ‘hybrid’ court of national and international judges and staff that will try individuals suspected of having committed crimes under international law during the conflict.

However, Amnesty International’s report makes key recommendations to make sure that the SCC is set up as rapidly as possible in a way that ensures effective investigations and fair trials.

While $5 million of the $7 million required for the first 14 months of operations has been secured. Donor countries should also help by nominating qualified judges and other legal staff during current and future recruitments.

It is also vital that a robust victim and witness protection programme is developed to ensure their safe participation in the proceedings. It is time to put an end to the climate of fear that has enveloped CAR for too long.”

11 January 2017

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