Peace deal in CAR : questions on ensuring accountability for war crimes and violations
Addis-Abeba: les représentants des 14 groupes armés signataires de l’accord de paix, la délégation gouvernementale #RCA 🇨🇫 et les partenaires, dont Chef #MINUSCA 🇺🇳 & @CEEAC_ECCAS, reçus mercredi à la Maison de l’ Afrique par @AUC_MoussaFaki . pic.twitter.com/mcw3itW3K5— MINUSCA (@UN_CAR) 20 March 2019
On 6th February 2019, a peace deal was signed between 14 armed groups and the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) in the country's capital, Bangui, after 18 months of negotiations. The peace deal, negotiated under the auspices of the African Union, aims to end the conflict that has ravaged the country since 2013. All the parties to the accord renounced to resorting to armed force to resolve differences, and committed to setting up an inclusive government.
Human Rights Watch said that the peace deal remains vague in terms of accountability for grave crimes and human rights abuses during the conflict, and although the deal does not mention 'amnesty', requested by armed groups, it does not include concrete steps to ensure justice for the victims of human rights abuses and war crimes. The accord acknowledges that impunity has “entrenched an infernal cycle of violence, weakened the judiciary, led to massive violations of human rights, international humanitarian law, and the mistrust of the population with regard to the state". An 'inclusive commission' will "make proposals on justice" to the Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission, which will be established. A president decree of 8th February 2019 on the composition of the inclusive commission foresees a total of 13 members, eight members from the government and five from the armed groups.
The establishment and the role of the inclusive commission was criticised by civil society groups. Coordinator of the civil society working group on the Central African crisis (groupe de travail de la société civile sur la crise centrafricaine), Gervais Lakosso, commented to Radio France Internationale (RFI):
"No, it is not enough. Will the victims have the courage and the will to file a complaint when their perpetrators continue to guard the instrument of malfeasance in their hands? It's not going to encourage them, they will not want to take that risk." (translated from French)
Meanwhile, the Special Criminal Court has started its operations in late 2018, while the International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since 2012. On 12th December 2018, the former coordinator of the anti-balaka militias Patrice Edouard Ngaissona was arrested in France following an arrest warrant issued by the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II. Previously, Alfred 'Rombhot Yékatom', a deputy and another former leader of the anti-balaka militias, was arrested and transferred from Bangui to the ICC on 17th November 2018.
As documented previously on the Monitor, civil society groups, including the Central African Human Rights League (LCDH) and the Central African Human Rights Observatory (OCDH), have asked to reject the granting of amnesty to those responsible for grave human rights abuses as part of the peace negotiations.
Radio Ndeke Luka interdite de toute couverture médiatique des activités à la présidence de la République https://t.co/JXNmuxsH0S— Caroline Vuillemin (@CaroVuillemin) 12 January 2019
In January 2019, Sylvie Panika, director of Radio Ndeke Luka, one of the main radio stations in CAR, said that journalists of the radio have been denied entry to events where President Faustin-Archange Touadéra delivered speeches, qualifying the action as a 'ban on presidential activities' for the radio, and a violation of press freedom and the freedom of information. In a statement on 10th January 2019, Radio Ndeke Luka said that journalist Rodrigue Le Roi Benga was denied entry to the Presidency to cover the president's declaration on the dialogue between the government and armed groups. Later, the radio station was not invited to the State of the Nation address of the President. Panika said: "we are a radio that has been created to accompany the Central Africans in their day-to-day reality, it is a local radio and we are not an opposition radio as some people think."
In a statement on 31st October 2018, the Union des Journalistes de Centrafrique (UJCA; Union of Journalists of Central Africa) denounced the silence on the crimes and violations committed against journalists in CAR. The statement was made in relation to the celebration of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on 2nd November. The statement mentioned several journalists that have lost their lives in the past few years, and further said:
"Also, there were physical assaults, death threats, arbitrary arrests, looting and destruction of media outlets and equipment. All this, without any investigation into the presumed perpetrators, has resulted in a judicial prosecution." (translated from French)
In January 2019, media freedom CSO Reporters without Borders (RSF) have called for an international investigation into the murder of three Russian journalists in CAR on 30th July 2018. The renewed call follows the publication of a report by Dossier, a Russian center for investigative journalism, founded by former oil magnate and Russian opposition figure in exile, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, on the murders. Based on phone records and interviews, the Dossier investigation revealed, among others, that a CAR police officer close to Russian military advisors, was in regular contact with a Russian military officer and with the journalists' driver. Arnaud Froger of RSF said:
"The CAR’s investigators and their Russian counterparts have failed to shed light on this triple murder in the nearly six months since it took place. The facts revealed by these phone records and many other documents deserve closer examination. At this point, only an independent international inquiry would be able to establish how these three journalists came to be murdered.”
On 28th January 2019, thousands protested in Bangui to demand a 'complete' lifting of the embargo on the buying of weapons by the CAR government, in order to have strong and armed security forces. The protest came days prior to discussions on the topic at the UN Security Council, who decided, on 31st January 2019, to extend the arms embargo until 31st January 2020. There has been a weapons embargo for CAR since 2013, although both Russia and France have received exemptions to the embargo since 2017, in the name of the training of the armed forces in CAR.
According to media reports, hundreds of people protested in Bangui's PK5 neighbourhood on 23rd October 2018. The protest erupted in response to the petition, deposed by 95 members of Parliament on 18th October 2018 in the National Assembly, to dismiss Abdou Karim Meckassoua as Speaker of the Assembly. Meckassoua was elected Member of Parliament for the 3rd arrondissement of Bangui, which includes the neighbourhood PK5. No incidents were reported.
RSF demande une enquête internationale indépendante sur l’assassinat des journalistes russes en RCA https://t.co/KOcUt28Y4f— #ForumEcolo (@Forum_Ecolo) 15 January 2019