Warlords accused of horrendous crimes continue to walk free in Central African Republic

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 Amnesty International is outraged that warlords accused of horrendous crimes, including unlawful killings and sexual violence, continue to walk free in Central African Republic, two years after the inauguration of the country’s Special Criminal Court (SCC).

Despite a few investigations and trials in the past few years, many perpetrators of serious human rights violations and abuses have not been brought to justice, Amnesty International said in its new report, ‘’On trial, these warlords lowered their eyes’’: The Central African Republic’s challenging pursuit of justice.

 The report found that the SCC’s progress has been hampered by deficiencies in the Court’s operationalization and a lack of transparency, while CAR’s national justice system is too weak to address the vast scale of the violations. It also highlights the remaining efforts to be made to ensure trials before ordinary courts and the SCC are fair.

“Civilians have borne the brunt of successive waves of violence and armed conflict since 2002 in CAR. Thousands have been killed, raped, and over half a million people are still displaced. Impunity is an affront for the victims and a blank check for perpetrators of crimes. The inauguration of the SCC provided a glimmer of hope for victims, but progress is slow. Ten cases are currently before investigating judges, and the SCC has refused to disclose the identities of the 21 individuals arrested following its investigations, without providing reasons for such refusal,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Director.

“CAR’s national justice system is severely under-resourced. With armed groups including ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka still carrying out regular attacks against civilians, it is clear that much more needs to be done to end the cycle of impunity that continues to cause so much suffering.”

The Special Criminal Court is an UN-backed hybrid tribunal mandated to investigate and prosecute, for a renewable five-year period, crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations committed in CAR since January 2003. It was established by a June 2015 law and was inaugurated on 22 October 2018. It is complementary to the mandate of the ICC and the ordinary courts of CAR.

At least 21 individuals have been arrested in the context of these investigations and are currently in pre-trial detention. Three of those in detention were arrested following killings committed in Paoua (North West) in May 2019.  Nine individuals were arrested on 19 May 2020, in connection with killings perpetrated in Ndele (North East) in 2019 and 2020; and nine were arrested on 25 May 2020 in relation to attacks against civilians committed in Bambouti, Obo and Zemio (South East) in 2020. 

While investigations started in 2019 and trials are expected to start in 2021, the operationalisation of the SCC is facing some serious challenges, impeding its proper functioning. Among these challenges are the recruitment of international judges and the delay in the establishment of the Court’s legal aid system, Amnesty International said.

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