CAR: Perpetrators of atrocities must have nowhere to hide from justice

The identities of some of those suspected of ordering or committing the atrocities that have been taking place in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been made public today by Amnesty International, with a call for justice to be delivered to the people of the beleaguered nation.

The report, Central African Republic: Time for Accountability, documents crimes under international law perpetrated across the CAR in 2013 and 2014, and calls for the investigation, prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators. It names members and allies of the anti-balaka and Séléka armed groups suspected of involvement in serious human rights abuses, outlining their roles and establishing their possible criminal responsibilities.

“If the Central African Republic is to recover from the killing spree that has taken place since December 2013, it is imperative that those who masterminded, committed or participated in war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious human rights abuses are brought to account,” said Christian Mukosa, Amnesty International’s Central African Republic researcher.

“Those responsible for leaving hundreds of thousands of innocent people with nowhere to hide from their murderous violence must be given nowhere to hide from justice. Only by ending impunity can the cycle of violence that has gripped CAR be stemmed.”

Time for Accountability documents first-hand accounts from victims and witnesses of crimes under international law and gross human rights violations committed during the conflict that has left thousands killed, forced almost a million people to flee their homes and driven CAR to the brink of a humanitarian disaster.

The report identifies a number of high-profile leaders for their roles in the atrocities. These include ex-Presidents François Bozizé and Michel Djotodia, anti-balaka coordinators, including Levy Yakété and Séléka commanders, including Noureddine Adam.

Most attacks in CAR are conducted openly, with the perpetrators showing no fear of sanction and in some cases being well-known to their victims and the authorities.

Eye-witness testimonies documented by Amnesty International reveal the role of Séléka commanders, including Colonel Bishara, Colonel Aba Tom and Colonel Yussuf Hamad, in leading attacks in Bangui.

One witness told how Colonel Yussuf Hamad led a group of Séléka searching a hospital for anti-balaka fighters. “He threatened to kill everyone in the hospital if we didn’t show them the anti-balaka,” said a witness who told Amnesty International how a man was taken away from the hospital by Colonel Yussuf Hamad and later found dead nearby.

Anti-balaka commanders identified in the report include Richard Bejouane, Colonel Dieudonné and Colonel “12 puissance”. These men are so confident about the impunity they enjoy that they have often talked openly about their role in human rights abuses and made public statements inciting violence.

Whilst most of the suspects identified by Amnesty International’s research are living openly in CAR, some are staying in other countries including Chad and France.

“No country should provide safe haven to individuals suspected of committing or supporting war crimes and crimes against humanity in CAR. They have an obligation to investigate the allegations and, if the evidence is sufficient, to prosecute or extradite the suspects so they can face justice,” said Christian Mukosa.

The lack of investigation or justice in CAR for past atrocities has contributed to the absence of an effective and independent justice system and the inability of the security forces to protect victims, witnesses, members of the judiciary or the wider population from violence or retaliatory attacks. Lack of secure detention facilities has meant that, even when arrested, those suspected of committing crimes under international law and human rights abuses frequently escape.

The presence of international peacekeepers has failed to put an end to the violence. Peacekeeping forces, including Chadian soldiers, have even been involved in serious human rights violations. The most serious incident occurred on 29 March when Chadian soldiers opened fire on civilians in a Bangui market and, according to the United Nations, killed at least 30 people and injured 300. The fight against impunity must extend to the investigation of suspected human rights abuses by the soldiers and officers of the Chadian national army in this and other incidents in CAR.

Amnesty International is calling for urgent action at local, regional and international levels to rebuild the country’s judicial and law enforcement system. Evidence of human rights abuses must be preserved and witnesses and survivors must be identified and protected.

The Special Investigations Cell set-up by the CAR transitional authorities to conduct investigations into crimes committed in the country should be strengthened and expanded beyond the capital Bangui. The UN’s commission of inquiry into human rights abuses should also be reinforced.

Amnesty International has also called on the authorities to consider whether a hybrid court composed of national and international experts could be created to try crimes under international law and help strengthen the national justice system. This court would not prevent cases being prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) which has opened a preliminary examination of the situation.

“The establishment of the Special Investigation Cell, the UN commission of inquiry and the fact that the ICC has already opened a preliminary examination on the situation in the country send a clear message that impunity will not be tolerated. But there is much more that needs to be done to ensure effective accountability,” said Christian Mukosa.

“Justice for crimes committed in CAR can only be achieved by a coordinated effort of the international community supported by clear political will from the CAR transitional authorities. The net is closing in on those responsible for human rights abuses. Their names and whereabouts are known. Their crimes are being documented. And they will face justice.”