Bangui — Two days of hearings were set aside at the end of June for three victims who are not witnesses in the Jean-Pierre Bemba case before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Nevertheless, the Trust Fund for Victims is struggling to start its activities in the Central African Republic - three years after the confirmation of charges brought against the former Congolese militia leader.
With a non-legal mandate to support victims of sexual and gender-based violence in this country, it was just in May 2011 that the fund issued a call for expressions of interest to local and international NGOs. Four months later, organizations had submitted projects and several were selected.
But no list has been made public. And a year later, victims whom the International Justice Tribune spoke with seem not to have known about it. Those who should benefit from the fund still have not been identified, according to sources close to the ICC. No service is available to provide victims with information at the ICC field office in the capital Bangui.
Speaking in the national language of Sango and on condition of anonymity, one 36-year-old woman told us: "The ICC should give me money so I can seek treatment because I am sick with AIDS after seven men had sex with me. But I don't understand anything at this point..."
It remains difficult for victims to understand the difference between the non-legal mandate of the Trust Fund for Victims in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the ICC legal mandate. One reason for the cloudiness is that the only trial currently underway regarding the CAR, against Bemba, could also lead to compensation.
The announcement of the fund's arrival to Bangui brought a breeze of hope to local communities. Thousands of people affected by the war are waiting for aid here, particularly from UN agencies in the CAR and humanitarian NGOs assisting populations in post-conflict zones in the north and north-east. In these areas, health centres and hospitals have been destroyed by the war. Schools are practically non-existent.
The slow pace of justice
According to Marie-Edith Douzima, a legal representative of victims before the ICC, "the slow pace of justice is its strength. [But] this Fund for Victims has nothing to do with the trial. It was only last year that those in charge of the fund came here to the CAR to see how they could help victims, both those allowed to participate in the trial and those who are not participating."
Another attorney, Bruno Hyacinthe Gbiegba, president of Christians for the Abolition of Torture and the Death Penalty (ACAT-RCA) says he is shocked "by the fact that there is not enough information going around regarding the Fund for Victims in CAR. I think there was a selection process. We should be given that information. Secondly, are the NGOs which were chosen truly able to meet victims' needs? Because things should not be done by cooption. If that's the case, we're not going to accept it."
Fabienne Chassagneux, outreach coordinator for the ICC in Bangui, says: "The process is in place and only the Fund experts may be able to provide precise information regarding the progress of the programme."
Festivities are underway at the Bangui field office, now celebrating the tenth anniversary of the ICC. Meanwhile, all signs suggest that Fund for Victims beneficiaries in the CAR still have a long wait.