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Central African Republic: the Special Criminal Court, between “historic” progress and “obstacles” of power


S7 years after its inauguration in the Central African Republic, the Special Criminal Court (CPS), a hybrid tribunal made up of national and international magistrates responsible for judging war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since 2003, opens its first trial on Tuesday in Bangui.

In a country with a near-failed rule of law, bloodied by decades of civil wars, the last of which, which began 9 years ago, continues today, and with two-thirds of the territory in the hands of armed militias, a year ago, SPC had to overcome a grueling obstacle course to get here.

And nothing is played yet for this jurisdiction which is struggling to assert its authority when the power of President Faustin Archange Touadéra, accused by the UN, the European Union and France of having thrown his country under the thumb of Moscow and of the Russian private security company Wagner, which exploits its rare wealth – gold and diamonds – in exchange for its protection against the rebels.

While the CPS is praised by some as a model of justice to be exported to other countries in civil war or recovering from it, others doubt its effectiveness as it was slow to open its first trial, for three criminals of presumed small-scale war.

Created in 2015 by the government with the sponsorship of the UN, but whose work was launched only in October 2018 with the first investigations, the CPS – composed of national and international judges and prosecutors originating in particular from France, Togo and DRC – will hear its first trial on Tuesday to try for war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed in May 2019, Issa Sallet Adoum, Ousman Yaouba and Tahir Mahamat.

Members of one of the most powerful armed groups that have been terrorizing populations for years, the 3Rs (Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation), they are accused of the massacre of 46 civilians in villages in the northwest of the country.

Obstacles

The opening of this trial – which is not the subject of any publicity by the government while international NGOs and foreign lawyers describe it as “historic” – comes exactly five months after the arrest by police of the CPS of Minister of Livestock and ex-rebel leader Hassan Bouba in his ministry in Bangui.

If the CPS had not specified the reasons for his indictment, the American NGO The Sentry, which specializes in tracking down the dirty money that finances wars, claimed that he was directly responsible for the attack on a camp. displaced persons in November 2018, which resulted in the death of at least 112 villagers, including 19 children.

A few days later, he was exfiltrated from prison by the gendarmes before returning to his ministry, a few hundred meters from the CPS, and being decorated by the Head of State with the National Order of Merit.

“The CPS is coming up against obstacles erected by the government, perfectly illustrated by the Hassan Bouba affair”, deplores Nicolas Tiangaye, lawyer and spokesperson for the Coalition de l’opposition-2020 (COD-2020), which brings together the almost all of the unarmed opposition parties.

According to its detractors, the CPS cannot even count on the support of the 14,000 blue helmets of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic (Minusca), while the United Nations is its sponsor and main donor. funds. The SPC has an annual budget of 12 million euros, mainly provided by the UN, the EU and the United States.

“Big Fish”

“The decisions of the judges must be applied by other entities, there are at least 25 arrest warrants but neither Minusca nor the Central African authorities execute them when it is part of their mandate”, denounces Alice Banens, legal adviser for Amnesty International.

“The real question now is whether our warrants, including those for big fish, will be executed,” admitted Central African Court President Michel Landry Louanga to AFP.

The CPS is also afflicted by faulty logistics which did not help its extremely long establishment – the last two foreign judges took up their duties in February and “key positions at the CPS remain vacant and difficult to fill”, deplores the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a recent report.

“The situation of the CPS is special, it is a court that works while there are still clashes and our detractors forget it”, pleads President Louanga. “Despite everything, we manage to mount war crimes proceedings and it does not happen anywhere else, there are no comparisons in the world”.

04/18/2022 08:18:27 – Bangui (AFP) – © 2022 AFP

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