- Only days after the former President of the Central African Republic, Ange-Félix Patassé, returned home after a 6-year exile, human rights groups demand he be sent directly to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes. Also the current President is accused of grave war crimes.
Ex-President Patassé is among the Central African leaders with the best reputation, being on of the few that were democratically elected. However, as his former army leader François Bozizé started a rebellion against his government, Mr Patassé got heavy-handed. Human rights groups claim to have wide documentation on war crimes committed during the insurgency.
Mr Patassé was ousted by General Bozizé in 2003, and went into exile in Togo. Only last week, he was admitted back to Bangui, the Central African capital, by President Bozizé. There are hopes of a broad national reconciliation in the country, which finally could lead to peace and stability.
However, human rights groups are unhappy with the sudden positive attention given Mr Patassé and Mr Bozizé. Both, they say, are indeed responsible for massive crimes against humanity in the Central African Republic. At a time when Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo - a Congolese warlord also involved in the Central African Republic's civil war - is facing ICC prosecution, the real masterminds should not be left out, they hold.
The International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), an umbrella organisation grouping human rights groups from all over the world, today demands the ICC looks into a possible prosecution of Mr Patassé, Mr Bozizé and their executors.
In several investigative reports, FIDH claims to have documented that serious crimes were committed against civilians by all warring parties during the fighting that preluded General Bozizé's coup. The "extremely grave crimes" included "mass rapes were against the civilian population in 2002 and 2003" and the deploying of "regiments to attack the civilian population in five cities."
FIDH in particular demands an ICC investigation into ex-President Patassé's responsibilities. Mr Patassé brought Mr Bemba's Congolese MLC rebels to assist his government in fighting General Bozizé's insurgency. The ex-leader therefore holds co-responsibility for the crimes committed by the MLC rebels, the group holds.
Mr Bemba and Mr Patassé "coordinated the conduct of the MLC troops in Central African Republic and together ... wanted these crimes take place and within the framework of their common plan," FIDH holds.
But also current President Bozizé should be investigated for war crimes, FIDH holds. The group maintains it has documented that both leaders were responsible for "executions, rape, looting and other serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by men under their authority at the time."
FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen personally urges the ICC to broaden its approach on the Central African Republic (CAR): "To demonstrate the seriousness and impartiality of its work on CAR, but also to prove that no major criminal may escape justice, the ICC Prosecutor must issue more arrest warrants against the alleged perpetrators of most serious crimes committed in CAR. This reflects the desire of Central Africans and victims of all parties to the conflict," Mr Belhassen holds.
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