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Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic
Image: picture alliance/AP Images

CAR atrocities

Mark Caldwell
September 25, 2014

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is opening a new investigation into atrocities committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) in the last two years.

https://p.dw.com/p/1DLCI

Months of fighting between the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition and the Christian anti-Balaka militia have left at least 5,000 people dead. The atrocities to be probed include murder, rape, forced displacement, persecution, pillage and the use of children under the age of 15 in combat.

DW: Can you see the process of reconciliation between the warring factions becoming easier if justice is seen to be done and perpetrators of atrocities are brought to justice?

Thierry Vircoulon: I think right now we are very far away from the prospect of reconciliation in CAR. A lot of massacres happened last year and there is unfortunately still fighting going on so reconciliation seems to be a very far away prospect. I think it's very welcome that the ICC has finished its preliminary investigation and that the conclusion is that they will definitely investigate further the crimes that have been committed and that are still being committed in Central African Republic. We must not forget that this is a request that has made to the ICC by the transitional government, it is not the initiative of the ICC.

So this means that the court can rely on the support of the interim government in it investigations?

Definitely. Catherine Samba Panza, the head of the transitional government requested the intervention of the ICC. Of course this is just the beginning of what can be a long process but it's definitely welcome, given the level of impunity in the country. We must not forget that right now the justice system in Central African Republic has completely collapsed.

Thierry Vircoulon
Thierry Vircoulon is the East Africa Project Director with the ICCImage: privat

How long will this formal investigation take?

It is really impossible to say at the moment.

But we cannot say at this stage whether there is going to be a trial, can we?

No, of course not. The ICC will have to send investigators to the Central African Republic. The ICC had an office in Bangui until the end of the year; they were forced to pull out and close down their office because of the security situation there so they are probably now going to reestablish an office and investigate further. So it's really impossible to say how long the proceedings can be but that's definitely not going to happen overnight.

This would be the court's second investigation in CAR. Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former vice president from the neighboring DRC, is on trial for commanding rebels who committed murder, rape and pillage in CAR just over ten years ago. What has been the reaction to that trial in the region?

That trial is of course about the politics in Congo so it was not really an issue in Bangui. I think what probably reinforced the feeling of impunity in Central African Republic was when the ICC investigated the killings that were committed in Bangui in 2003. They only indicted Jean-Pierre Bemba and they did not expand their investigations and prosecutions to those who were involved in that matter from the Central African government side, for instance former President Patasse. Basically, the troops of Jean-Pierre Bemba were called in by former President Patasse. But Patasse is dead now but it's a bit sad actually that the ICC at this stage just focuses on Jean-Pierre Bemba and got only a Congolese angle on what happened in Bangui in 2003 and did not expand its investigations. That maybe has given the feeling to the Central African actors that impunity was the rule of the game.

The ICC is a controversial institution in Africa.Can you see this new case in CAR restoring African confidence in the court?

It will all depend basically on how long the proceedings and the investigations of the court are going to take. I think an announcement has been made by the prosecutor and action should follow very quickly if the court wants to reestablish its reputation. It's been taking very long time - you were talking about the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba, that trial is still going on right now, and we are talking about crimes committed in 2003. As usual the credibility of justice is also related to how fast and how effective justice can be.

Thierry Vircoulon is the Project Director for East Africa at the International Crisis Group

Interview: Mark Caldwell

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