CAR: Rights groups, public demand accountability for crimes in CAR armed conflict

Bangui, Central African Republic (PANA) - Human rights watchdog Amnesty International and civil society organisations in Central African Republic (CAR) are on Thursday launching a national campaign urging authorities in the country to tackle a deeply entrenched culture of impunity which has prevented thousands of victims of human rights abuses and crimes under international law from receiving any form of justice.

The campaign "Justice Now! Towards lasting peace in CAR" calls on authorities to commit to a tougher stance against impunity by holding those responsible for serious crimes to account and for CAR’s technical and financial partners to support the government’s efforts, including by funding the country’s new Special Criminal Court.

“Civil society organisations are joining together to ensure authorities in CAR do not neglect the vast scale of human suffering and distress that thousands and thousands of victims have faced during this conflict. The perpetrators of heinous crimes, including rape and killings, have roamed free for too long. They must be held to account if the authorities are to move from words to action,” said Olivia Tchamba, Amnesty International’s Central Africa Campaigner.

“Despite positive steps such as the nomination of the Special Prosecutor for the Special Criminal Court and of international and national judges, and the organization of two criminal trial sessions in Bangui, too many barriers to achieving justice for the victims of the conflict remain in place,” she said, according to a statement issued by Amnesty International.

The statement said the campaign will be run from Thursday until November 2018, in collaboration with local civil society, including  the Réseau des ONG de Promotion et Défense des Droits de l’Homme en République Centrafricaine (RONGDH) and the Coordination des Organisations Musulmanes de Centrafrique (COMUC).

Together they will join forces to undertake advocacy with the CAR authorities, organise conferences to highlight the need for justice, engage with the newly formed Special Criminal Court and be trained in monitoring, documenting and reporting human rights violations.

Since renewed violence broke out in CAR in 2013, Amnesty International said it has documented crimes under international law committed across the country by all parties to the conflict, mostly the anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka armed groups.  

More than 5,000 people have died in the intensified violence since then, which has caused an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. As of March 2017, over 460,000 people have fled and become refugees in neighbouring countries such as Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and some 426,000 have been internally displaced.

The statement said accountability for crimes committed during the armed conflict, including rapes and killings, has been a consistent demand of the country’s population. In May 2015, participants to the Bangui Forum reiterated this by rejecting claims for immunity and amnesties for those allegedly responsible for crimes under international law.

Clarisse, a 57-year-old widow who was raped alongside her 19-year-old daughter Naomi, explained the tragic sequence of events that changed their lives on the night of 23 December 2013 when 11 armed anti-Balaka attacked her house in the capital Bangui:

“They threatened and insulted us. A few minutes later, some of the anti-Balaka threw me on the ground and two of them started to rip my clothes off and rape me. I collapsed. When I woke up, I was told that they [anti-Balaka forces] had raped my daughter Naomi as well.”

A few weeks later, Naomi was diagnosed as HIV-positive and became pregnant as a result of the rape. She gave birth to a baby girl who is also HIV-positive.

Clarisse told Amnesty International:  
“I want the perpetrators to be prosecuted for what they have done to my daughter and me. I want to be compensated for all that I have lost.”

Elisée was among 14 men shot dead by armed ex-Séléka fighters in the courtyard of a hospital in Bangui on 5 December 2013. His sister Delphine filed a complaint at the High Court of Bangui but to date there has been no follow-up by the prosecutor or judicial authorities.

She told Amnesty International: “One day they will call me and justice will do its job.”

The statement said Amnesty International and its local partners are calling on authorities in CAR to ensure that prompt, rigorous, independent and impartial investigations are carried out into serious allegations of crimes under international law and other human rights abuses.

They should ensure that the perpetrators are investigated and prosecuted by the national judicial system, the Special Criminal Court or the International Criminal Court in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.

The groups said the government should increase the budget of the Ministry of Justice and allocate appropriate resources to ensure its effective functioning and good management, and in collaboration with CAR’s technical and financial partners, strengthen the capacity of, and provide material support to the police and gendarmes to conduct investigations, including by collecting material evidence.

The statement said groups also urged the authorities to continue and intensify the progress made in the recruitment of national and international judges as well as other Special Criminal Court staff.

"The organisations also call on CAR’s international donors to ensure sustainable funding to guarantee the proper functioning of the Special Criminal Court as well as to honour commitments made during the International Donors’ Conference of November 2016 in Brussels."

These commitments include providing US$105 million earmarked from the national recovery and peacebuilding plan, to strengthen the judicial system, the statement said.
-0- PANA MA 11May2017

11 may 2017 06:57:24

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