Human rights organizations have for years urged a resolution of the war crimes cases in Central African Republic. The Special Criminal Court is expected to begin its work in this regard next month.
"The special court is a big hope for us. Long, agonizing years of impunity will finally come to an end," Flavien Mbata, the justice minister of the Central African Republic (CAR), said in an exclusive DW interview.
The worst human rights violations, such as the massacre and displacement of people and plunder during the ethnic and religious hostilities between 2003 and 2013 has gone unpunished.
"Most of the murderers and their supporters are still walking around freely in Bangui and other cities or living unchallenged in neighboring countries or in Europe," said Fernand Mande-Djapou, a human rights activist.
"Ex-president Francois Bozize, under whose rule most of the human rights violations were committed, is now living in Uganda."
After several postponements, the court will officially begin its work next month. Mbata gave the concrete date as October 19 to DW. The government in Bangui had already decided on establishing the tribunal in 2015. The justice minister talks of teething problems.
The court has so far concerned itself mainly with the preparatory work. Recent months have seen huge strides: "The court's judges and investigators are available at the respective locations," said Mbata. Two international judges, one from Togo and the other from Benin, are expected in Bangui soon. "The court has enough prosecutors and both local and international judges," he said.
There's a problem though: "There's a huge financial gap," according to the justice minister. The funding of the tribunal is being supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Street theater to create awareness
A large-scale publicity campaign has been under way for weeks. In the capital Bangui and 10 provincial cities are being informed of the court through street theater productions, for instance. "We are trying to motivate people to work with the special court. We distribute forms, which they can fill out if they want to report violations or possible perpetrators," said Mande-Djapou, coordinator of the non-governmental Coalition pour la Penal Speciale (CCPS), one of the organizations involved in the campaign. "We want to eliminate doubt, skepticism and mistrust among the people. One owes that to the victims of human rights violations and their relatives across the country," Mande-Djapou believes.
Can it be trusted?
"The tribunal will be independent. There will be no political influence whatsoever on its work. The judges and other officials of the tribunal will be entirely independent and will experience no restrictions of any kind in their work," said Mbata. The investigations will see no one spared, neither the rich nor politically powerful. "The court is tasked with processing any crime against humanity committed in the Central African Republic. There will be no exceptions."
Mande-Djapou, the human rights activist, is not sure it's that simple: The people of CAR are highly skeptical of the tribunal. "Many citizens saw what came out of the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the case of Jean-Pierre Bemba – an acquittal. And many are thinking: Will the same happen here in the CAR? Will the murderers here escape justice too?"
Jeff Murphy Bares and Eric Topona contributed to this report.