On April 4th 2017, the United Nations Security Council welcomed the efforts of the President of the Central African Republic, Faustin Archange Touadera, to restore peace and security to the crisis-torn country, also stressing the need for the “swift operationalization” of his plans.
In its Presidential Statement, the Security Council condemned the ongoing violence between armed groups, “in particular the Front Patriotique pour la Renaisance de la Centrafrique and the Unité pour la Paix en Centrafrique”, and applauded President Touadera’s efforts to “advance the inclusive dialogue with the armed groups on disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation”.
The Central African Republic has been rocked by instability since its independence from France in 1960. The country was plunged into greater turmoil in late 2013, descending into political and communal violence when the Seleka, an alliance of three major rebel groups, overthrew the government and committed widespread abuses: Human Rights Watch reported the deliberate killing of scores of civilians and the deliberate destruction of more than 1000 homes. In response, in mid-2013 anti-balaka militia formed to oppose the Seleka and carried out large scale reprisal attacks. For years, civilians in the Central African Republic have been caught in the middle of increasing violence and are sometimes themselves targeted, despite the presence of UN peacekeepers. An estimated 461,000 people are refugees in neighbouring countries and 421,700 more are internally displaced.
Almost none of those responsible for human rights abuses have been held accountable, and, as an Amnesty International report of January 2017 argues, “impunity in Central African Republic not only denies justice to thousands of victims of human rights violations and abuses, it also continues to fuel instability and conflict”. “The population supports the principal of dialogue and reconciliation, but places justice and reparation for the damages inflicted as a necessary condition” to achieve this. President Touadera has repeatedly expressed that achieving security and justice is a key priority for his government, stating at a donor conference in November 2016 that “reconciliation cannot be achieved at the cost of impunity”. It is true that some steps towards accountability have been taken. Hopes for an end to the cycle of impunity that has left armed groups free to kill at will were raised in February 2017 by the appointment of Toussaint Muntazini Mukimapa of the Democratic Republic of Congo as special prosecutor of a new Special Criminal Court (SCC). The SCC will be made up of national and international staff and will have the mandate to investigate and prosecute the most serious abuses committed in the country since 2003. According to Amnesty International, national security forces along with the UN peacekeeping force MINIUSCA have arrested 384 people suspected of crimes related to the conflict of September 2014–October 2016.
However, there is still much work to do. The judicial system of the Central African Republic was already weak and overburdened prior to the 2013 coup and is still in need of substantial and sustained investment to rebuild. Over a year and a half after the law was passed to create the Special Security Court, investigations – let alone trials – are yet to begin. Only two of the 21 individuals named by Amnesty International in 2014 as suspected perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity have been arrested and there is no evidence of effective investigations into the remaining 19. Amnesty names among the prominent suspects who remain at large Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona; Eugène Barret Ngaïkosset (also known as ‘the Butcher of Paoua’); Thierry Lébéné; former presidents Francois Bozize and Michel Djotodia and ex-Seleka leaders Abdoulaye Hissene and Haroun Gaye. Furthermore, the absence of any witness protection legislation or mechanism is a significant obstacle to the effective functioning of the justice system.
Though Touadera’s creation of the Special Criminal Court should indeed be celebrated, efforts to render it operational must be sustained and pledges by donors for a total of more than US$2 billion must be delivered to end the persistent impunity fueling continued violence and instability in the Central African Republic.
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