- The International Criminal Court in (ICC) The Hague is set to open investigation into sexual crimes committed during a 2002 coup led by General François Bozizé against the former Central African Republic President, Ange-Félix Patassé.
The case was earlier referred to the ICC by the Supreme Court of the Central African Republic, with judges arguing that they lacked the ability to prosecute such cases.
"We believe that grave crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the Court were committed in the Central African Republic. We will conduct our own independent investigation, gather evidence, and prosecute the individuals who are most responsible," ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said.
"The information we have now suggests that the rape of civilians was committed in numbers that cannot be ignored under international law," he said, adding, "this is the first time the Prosecutor is opening an investigation in which allegations of sexual crimes far outnumber alleged killings."
Hundreds of rape victims recounted how they were raped in public, mostly by multiple perpetrators and in the presence of their family members. They are also abused when they resisted rape.
"These victims are calling for justice," Moreno-Ocampo said.
In April last year, the Central African court referred Mr Patasse and the Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, to the ICC to face charges of rape and murder.
The court also referred a French policeman and two aids of Mr Patassé to the ICC. But none of these people has been arrested.
The crimes allegedly too place after a coup masterminded by François Bozizé in October 2002. Mr Patassé was helped by Mr Bemba's Congolese Liberation Movement who crossed to the Central African Republic.
At last, Mr Bozizé took over power in 2003.
The ICC prosecutor said no particular suspect was being targeted in the investigation. "We have a duty to show that massive crimes cannot be committed with impunity. We will do our part, working through our judicial mandate," he said.
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