Bangui — A general amnesty as part of the political dialogue in the Central African Republic would be incompatible with the government's duty to bring those responsible for grave international crimes to justice and with victims' rights to accountability, five Central African and international human rights organizations said today. The groups are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Central African Human Rights League (LCDH), and Central African Human Rights Observatory (OCDH).
A political dialogue between the African Union and armed groups is scheduled to resume on August 27, 2018. The dialogue aims to reach a political agreement to end ongoing violence. None of the agreements signed since 2012 have taken hold, as evidenced by recent violence in the Nana-Gribizi province near Mbres.
Several of the proposals formulated by various armed groups for the dialogue foresee the possibility of a general amnesty. A working paper of the African Union and the Central African authorities, however, provides as a guiding principle "the recognition that impunity has never constituted a durable solution to the recurrent crises."
"Political dialogue is not an excuse for forgetting the victims and atrocities that have been committed," said Mathias Morouba, lawyer for the victims and Central African Human Rights Observatory (OCDH) president. "It is unthinkable that individuals implicated in the most serious crimes should be able to secure themselves amnesty at the negotiating table, and this idea should be forcefully rejected outright by the government."
In 2015, the Bangui Forum, which had brought together more than 800 representatives of civil society, community organizations, political parties, and armed groups from all over the territory, prioritized justice as one of its main recommendations, specifying that "no amnesty" would be tolerated for those responsible for and acting as accomplices in international crimes. The forum recognized that the lack of justice in the Central African Republic since 2003 was one of the main causes of successive crises. The organizations believe that this priority should guide all future dialogue initiatives.
The armed groups at the negotiating table are suspected of having committed numerous grave abuses against civilians, such as murder, rape, sexual slavery, torture, looting, persecution, and destruction of religious buildings. The individuals responsible for these acts can be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Eleven of the 14 armed groups also seek integration of their members into the government among the 77 demands they put forward in July.
The working paper of the African Union and Central African authorities says that eligible members of the groups may be integrated into the government and armed forces without specifying precisely what constitutes eligibility. However, individuals implicated in serious crimes should be barred from any positions within government or the security forces.
"The considerable uncertainty surrounding these different meetings and the agenda for discussions fuel fears of a resumption of violence," said Joseph Bindoumi, Central African Human Rights League (LCDH) president. "For us, the red line is very clear: There should no longer be impunity for grave crimes committed in the Central African Republic."
The dialogue comes at a time when the Central African justice system is being strengthened. A new criminal session began in July in Bangui. The Special Criminal Court - a new court in the domestic system mandated to try war crimes and crimes against humanity - is opening investigations following the adoption of its rules of procedure and evidence in May. The court operates with international participation and support. To promote justice, the government and its international partners should continue to support both the national judiciary and the Special Criminal Court.
"It is not surprising that those supporting measures aimed at avoiding justice are making their voices heard today, just as judicial procedures are intensifying," said Paul Nsapu Mukulu, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) secretary general. "Civil society should be closely involved in the political dialogue, more than it has been until now, to help ensure that victims' interests and rights are upheld."