CAR: Failure to effectively investigate war crimes fuels further atrocities and fear
The failure of the Central African Republic authorities and the United Nations to effectively investigate war crimes is perpetuating the cycle of violence and fear in the country, Amnesty International said in a report today.
Central African Republic: Impunity is fuelling violence, based on a mission to CAR by Amnesty International researchers, details how some leaders and members of armed groups have continued to commit further atrocities and defy the rule of law. This is despite Amnesty International publishing evidence last July that raised reasonable suspicion of the involvement of a number of them in serious abuses including war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“The failure to hold accountable those implicated in the killing of civilians, the use of child soldiers and the burning of villages means they are not only able to walk free, but also to continue terrorising the population without fear of repercussions,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
In its July 2014 report, Amnesty International published a dossier naming 20 individuals, including anti-balaka and Seleka commanders, against whom it had credible evidence to suspect that they were responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights abuses committed in CAR since December 2013.
The organization called for investigations to be launched and for a special ‘hybrid court’- bringing together national and international judges - to be established to try those suspected of the most serious crimes. It also called for the strengthening of national courts and investigations by the International Criminal Court.
Now the organisation can reveal that some of these men have been implicated in interference with the administration of justice and further crimes under international law in Bangui and other parts of the country between September and October 2014.
Among those documented by Amnesty International researchers who continue to benefit from CAR’s climate of impunity include:
Patrice- Edouard Ngaïssona, a former Government minister and self-proclaimed coordinator of the anti-balaka armed groups. According to multiple sources, Ngaïssona continues to coordinate activities of many anti-balaka in CAR, including a number involved in the killing of civilians and attacks on international forces during a significant increase in violence in October 2014. Anti-balaka armed groups under his control were suspected of committing serious human rights abuses including killings of civilians in Bangui. Ngaïssona also used his position to seek concessions from the transitional authorities, including demanding the release of four high-profile anti-balaka prisoners. Although the transitional authorities initially accepted this demand, pressure from the judiciary and members of the international community prevented this from happening.
Ngaïssona had previously been accused by the transitional authorities of “being part of an illegal armed group, and illegal detention of firearms” and was briefly arrested in April 2014 before being released. Despite a mandate for his arrest for “crimes against humanity and incitation to genocide” issued by the previous government, and confirmed by the current transitional authorities, he continues to play a high-profile role in political negotiations with the authorities.
“Colonel Douze Puissances”, an anti-balaka commander who, according to a range of sources including witnesses and survivors, led a group of fighters who killed three civilians, badly injured at least 20 more, and burnt down 28 houses and a church in the Nguingo neighbourhood of Bangui on 14 October 2014.
“Colonel Douze Puissances” has previously been named by Amnesty International as suspected of having been involved in human rights abuses in December 2013, when he was in charge of groups of anti-balaka fighters in the Boy-Rabe area of Bangui.
Alfred Yekatom, alias “Rambo”, is another anti-balaka commander who continues to be active around the Bimbo area of Bangui and, according to multiple local sources, attacked the Bimbo gendarmerie on 29 October 2014, stealing equipment and freeing at least five prisoners. Amnesty International is concerned that this attack demonstrates his ability to interfere with the law enforcement agencies that have the obligation to investigate allegations of his criminal responsibility for crimes under international law. Amnesty International had previously named ‘Rambo’ as being suspected of the killing of civilians and recruitment of child soldiers in Mbaiki, 105 km from Bangui, between December 2013 and May 2014.
“Rather than fearing prosecution or punishment, those suspected of war crimes too often see violence as a way of achieving power, resources or protection from justice. Unless there is an end to impunity in CAR, serious human rights violations will continue unabated,” said Steve Cockburn.
While some progress has been made with the agreement of the UN and CAR authorities to set up a Special Criminal Court along the lines of the ‘hybrid court’ recommended by Amnesty international in July 2014, it is yet to become functional due to a lack of funding. The enabling legislation that establishes this court must meet international standards and ensure that the court is in practice independent, impartial and effective. Both the UN and the CAR authorities must consult widely, including with civil society organizations, on the enabling legislation and the composition of the proposed “Special Criminal Court” to ensure that these standards are met.
“The UN and the CAR authorities must act urgently to ensure all those suspected of committing crimes under international law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, are promptly, independently and effectively investigated. To make this happen, the international community needs to get behind the promised Special Criminal Court and ensure it is operational without delay,” said Steve Cockburn.
Although those named in Amnesty International’s report published today are predominantly linked to anti-balaka groups, armed men linked to Seleka continue to commit serious human rights violations too, and must also be investigated. Amnesty International researchers documented massacres committed in October 2014 by both Seleka and anti-balaka in and around the towns of Dekoa and Bambari, in the central region of the country and called for prompt investigations.