- The many alleged war crimes committed in the Central African Republic are to be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC), following a request by the Bangui government. In particular sexual violence are said to have been of a grave nature. Human rights groups have welcomed the government's referral to the ICC.
The Prosecutor of the Hague-based ICC, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, last week received a letter sent by the government of the Central African Republic. The letter refers the situation of crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court committed in the country since 1 July 2002, the date of entry into force of the Rome Statute, which established the ICC.
In accordance with the Rome Statute and the rules of procedure and evidence, the Prosecutor now was to carry out an analysis "in order to determine whether to initiate an investigation." For this purpose, he is to seek additional information, "including the gravity of alleged crimes, any relevant national proceedings, and the interests of justice," the ICC said in a recent statement.
The Central African Republic is only the third country worldwide to submit a referral to the ICC's Prosecutor. The Court is currently conducting investigations in Uganda and Congo Kinshasa (DRC), where grave war crimes have been alleged.
Human rights groups for several decades also have documented serious human rights abuses during armed conflict in the Central African Republic, including war crimes and crimes which may constitute crimes against humanity, committed with complete impunity.
Most recently, war crimes and crimes against humanity, including crimes of sexual violence, specifically against women, were committed during the armed conflict between October 2002 and March 2003. The armed conflict during that period was between insurgents led by former army Chief of Staff and current President François Bozizé, and forces loyal to the toppled President Ange-Félix Patassé.
The human rights group Amnesty International today welcomed the decision by Bangui authorities to let the ICC investigate the serious war crimes allegations in the country. "However, a number of other measures should be taken by the government to ensure that the Central African Republic will be able and willing to investigate and prosecute these crimes itself in fair trials without the death penalty," the group says.
Amnesty's findings during a visit to the Central African Republic in September 2003 had "strongly suggested" that sexual violence, including rape, perpetrated by combatants, was "committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on the civilian population," pursuant to government and armed opposition group policies. Under the Rome Statute of the ICC, sexual violence may constitute crimes against humanity.
The human rights group urged the Bangui government to draft a long-term national action plan, which was "urgently needed to end impunity for all crimes under international law," no matter how far back they were committed or the status and nationality of the suspected perpetrators. "The action plan should be developed in a transparent manner in full consultation with civil society," Amnesty said.
The ICC only has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute crimes committed since 1 July 2002. Therefore, the Central African government must investigate and prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity before that date.
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