Tag Archive | "Central African Republic"

Renewed Violence in the Central African Republic Threatens Fragile Peace

Photo Credit: Global Risk Insights

Photo Credit: Global Risk Insights

The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has reported renewed violence this week in the Central African Republic (CAR). On September 16th, after months of relative peace between predominantly Christian anti-Balaka supporters and predominantly Muslim ex-Seleka rebels, 26 civilians were killed, a UN aid worker was injured, and UN humanitarian offices were looted. The violence occurred in and around Kaga Bandoro, a market town 330km North of the capital Bangui. A spokesperson for CAR President Faustin Archange Touadera said that members of the ex-Seleka rebel group “went door to door and killed their victims[,]” including the village chief, and described the execution style killings as “a massacre.”

This recent flare in violence comes after a summer of relative calm in the country, the first since the Seleka uprising began in 2012. Last week at the UN, President Touadera said that “the [CAR] has turned its back on past dark days,” and promised a brighter future based on a four-stage framework for change: peace and security; national reconciliation; economic recovery; and justice and human rights. National reconciliation is to be achieved through a newly established hybrid criminal justice mechanism, the Special Criminal Court (CPS), established to prosecute the Seleka and Anti-Balaka responsible for extreme violence. In this fragile region of the country, renewed violence could stall efforts of the CPS to achieve the second stage of President Touadera’s plan to bring reconciliation to the nation.

In 2012, when Seleka rebels began an assault on the government of President Francois Bozize, the security situation in the CAR began to rapidly devolve. In a matter of months, ethnic violence overcame the country, and the CAR fell into a deepening humanitarian and economic crisis compounded by violence and widespread human rights violations. Following the coup in early 2013, unintegrated Christian militias came together, united under the banner of Anti-Balaka, to resist the rebel power-grab. During the conflict Seleka and Anti-Balaka fighters became engaged in a cycle of tit-for-tat retributive revenge killings. Individuals from both sides are accused of targeting civilians, murder, rape, torture, enlisting child soldiers, destroying humanitarian missions, forcibly displacing civilians, engaging in widespread persecution, looting, and pillaging. In the case of Anti-Balaka, there are also accusations of ethnic cleansing. This conflict resulted an estimated one million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), the rapes of thousands of innocent women and girls, the destruction of humanitarian missions, and the death of thousands of civilians, many of them children.

In January 2014, in order to bring peace to a nation at war, the CAR government established the Transitionary National Council (TNC), approved a new constitution, and replaced coup leader Michael Djotodia with interim president Catherine Samba-Panza. In July 2014, through mediation by the TNC, Seleka and Anti-Balaka leaders signed a peace agreement which formally disbanded the Seleka alliance, and all groups were promised inclusion in the future government. These developments, however, failed to end the violence; ex-Seleka rebels who did not lay down arms, and Anti-Balaka militias, continued to commit grave atrocities throughout the country.

In April 2015, interim president Samba-Panza executed a law creating the CPS. The CPS was created to investigate and prosecute all those responsible for grave human rights violations in the country since former president Bozize took power in 2003. The CPS is the first ‘hybrid justice’ institution created through national legislation to prosecute perpetrators of mass atrocities, and is seen as an inventive and transformative mechanism which possesses the potential to end the cycles of impunity-inspired violence in the CAR. Once the CPS is established it will exist as a special court within the domestic legal system of the CAR, will have a mandate of five years, will be located in Bangui, and will include both CAR citizens and other non-CAR citizens as staff and judiciary. The official mandate of the CPS is to conduct preliminary investigations and judicial examinations, in order to try “all war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the territory of Central African Republic since 2003.” Despite progress, attacks against civilians remained “alarming and widespread” through early 2016. It was not until late Spring of 2016 when the pinnacle of violence finally passed.

The ultimate success of the CPS in changing the trajectory of the CAR is likely to be determined by specific organizational factors of the court which have yet to be legislated, and future unpredictable events in the country. The CPS is, however, a hybrid justice mechanism like none other before, and is the country’s best chance to end the vicious cycle of impunity for mass atrocities which has plagued it since independence. While President Touadera seeks only brighter days ahead, he also recognizes that despite progress “the situation is a fragile one” and that the CAR “absolutely needs the support of its bilateral and regional partners.” If recent violence in Kaga Bandoro is an indication of, or may become a catalyst for, renewed violence elsewhere in the country there is a risk that it could derail progress towards national reconciliation. MINUSCA is now reinforcing positions in and around Kaga Bandoro and  stepping up patrols to protect civilians, and will continue its mandate in the CAR in order to prevent further violence.

Jeremy S Goldstein is a 4L J.D. Candidate at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law in Denver, Colorado USA; Senior Managing Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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ICC Convicts Former President Bemba for Atrocities in Central Africa

Photo Credit: Witness.org

Photo Credit: Witness.org

On Monday March 21, 2016 the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 2002-2003 situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). Bemba was convicted by the ICC of two counts of crimes against humanity, for murder and rape, and three counts of war crimes, for murder, rape and pillaging. Most importantly though, this is the first trial at the ICC to focus on the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and the first time a defendant has been convicted for command responsibility for failing to take action to stop crimes he knows are being committed by his troops. More than 5000 victims participated in the hearings, the highest number in ICC history.

In 2002 Bemba was commander-in-chief of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) when then president of the CAR, Ange-Felix Patasse, requested his assistance in putting down a coup waged by a group of soldiers loyal to former CAR president Kolingba. In coordination with Colonel Qaddafi of Lybia, Bemba sent 1,500 MLC troops to the CAR, who were accused of committing more than 1,000 rapes, in addition to widespread murder and pillaging.

Article 7 of the Rome Statute, which provides for the establishment and administration of the ICC, defines crimes against humanity as “acts when committed as a part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” Article 7(g) identifies “rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity” as acts which may be invoked to constitute the actus reas of a crime against humanity. Article 8 defines war crimes as grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, including acts against persons or property, when committed as part of a plan or policy or as a part of a large-scale commission of such crimes. Under this definition, the over 1,000 rapes committed by the MLC troops, rises to the level required by the statute in a non-international conflict, and the actus reas of rape is expressly included in 8(2)(e)(vi). 8(2)(f) does limit the situations in which rape or sexual violence can be considered ample actus reas to convict of war crimes to those where there is a protracted armed conflict, hence why this application has never previously been appropriate. In this case, however, the widespread use of rape as a weapon was in evidence from the over 5,000 victim participants.

Commentators have been especially impressed with prosecutors use of Article 28(a) of the Rome statute which allows for a military commander to be held criminally responsible for crimes committed by forced under their control when the military commander knew or should have know that the forcer were committing those crimes, and when that commander failed to take all ‘necessary and reasonable measures within his or her power’ to prevent the commission or to submit the matter to authorities for investigation. Under this Article, the ICC tribunal convicted Bemba as a result of acts committed by his troops which he did not personally commit. This precedent has been heralded by a host of human rights organizations including Amnesty International who said that this verdict, and the principles it espouses, represent a “historic moment in the battle for justice for victims of violence in CAR and around the World.”

This verdict has assured justice for thousands of victims of sexual violence perpetrated as a weapon of war, and the ICC, a beleaguered institution, can now proudly claim to hold commanders responsible for the actions of their troops. However, this investigation began nearly ten years ago, the trial took four years, and the verdict came almost two years after close of arguments. The ICC handles cases which are complex and sensitive, often taking a long time to go through evidence and allow for victim participation. Critics of the court cite its long lag-times, exorbitant costs, and lack of international participation as reasons why it has been a failure at bringing perpetrators, especially those outside of Africa, to justice. Hopefully those critics concerns are at least partially dissuaded by the conviction of Jean-Pierre Bemba, because this verdict is more than just another conviction of a despised African war-lord. By convicting Bebma of rape as a result of command responsibility under Article 28, it is a huge step forward towards strengthening the enforcement of the principles that lay at the foundation of the ICC.

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Critical Analysis: Hunt for African Warlord Joseph Kony Comes to A Halt

African troops in Central African Republic have suspended the hunt for Joseph Kony, one of the world's most wanted rebel chiefs. (Reuters)

African troops in Central African Republic have suspended the hunt for Joseph Kony, one of the world’s most wanted rebel chiefs. (Reuters)

Ugandan and American troops have suspended their joint hunt for war crimes suspect Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (“LRA”) due to political turmoil in the Central African Republic, where rebel groups unaffiliated with Kony seized power and forced President Francois Bozize to flee the country.

A Ugandan army spokesman told reporters that the hunt for Kony would remain on hold “until further notice” because rebel leaders in the Central African Republic were refusing to cooperate with Ugandan troops stationed in the country.  Soon after, the U.S. military announced that it would also suspend its operations.  The U.S. government has stated that it “remains very committed” to defeating the LRA.  The U.S. military said it will not withdraw its troops from the Central African Republic for now in hopes that the search for Kony can resume.

In October of 2011 President Obama deployed about 100 U.S. Special Forces troops to Africa to coordinate a regional effort to track Kony.  Currently about 40 U.S. Special Forces troops are deployed in the Central African Republic, where they are advising and training about 3,000 African troops — mainly Ugandans — looking for Kony in the jungle. The rest of the 60 U.S. troops are stationed in Uganda, South Sudan and Congo, where they will continue normal operations.

Kony and most of his deputies are thought to be hiding in the remote jungle straddling the borders of South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.  They regularly cross borders, are well-practiced at disappearing into the bush, and stopped using radios and cellphones long ago to avoid leaving an electronic trail.

The suspension is a major setback to efforts to capture the brutal and messianic Ugandan guerilla leader accused of abducting tens of thousands of children to use as fighters and sex slaves.  Kony is a notorious warlord wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.  It also overshadowed the State Department’s announcement to offer $5 million in rewards for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Kony and some of his top aides in the LRA.

 Alexis Kirkman is a 3L and a Candidacy Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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