When CAR lawmaker Alfred Yekatom fired a live round in Parliament less than a month ago, he probably didn't expect to be hauled in front of the International Criminal Court.
However, Legalbrief reports that the former militia leader who has been linked to numerous atrocities in largely Christian communities in 2013, on Friday faced judges in The Hague on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity .
Yekatom's problems began when he was involved in an altercation with a colleague as MPs were preparing to vote for a new speaker after a censure motion removed Karim Meckassoua, who represents a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood in Bangui. After years of confrontation between Muslim and Christian groups in the majority Christian country, Meckassoua's election in 2016 was seen as a symbol of reconciliation. A report on the News24 site notes that Yekatom, who represented the southern M'baiki district, drew his weapon and fired a shot. Moments later he was arrested. Full report on the News24 site
One of the world's poorest nations despite a rich supply of diamonds and uranium, the CAR has struggled to recover from a 2013 civil war that erupted w hen President Francois Bozize, a Christian, was overthrown by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels. In response, Christians, who account for about 80% of the population, organised vigilante units.
Yekatom had been in prosecutors' sights since 2015 for 'engaging in or providing support for acts that undermine the peace, stability or security in the CAR', his ICC arrest warrant said. It said the shooting incident in Parliament showed 'that he resorts to violent acts' and that his arrest was necessary 'to prevent him from committing further crimes within the jurisdiction of the court'.
A report on the EWN site notes that Yekatom's transfer to The Hague was the first since the ICC's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a probe in 2014 into the deadly violence that has left thousands dead and forced more than a quarter of the population out of their homes.
The ICC — set up to prosecute the worst crimes when member countries cannot or will not do so — issued a sealed arrest warrant for Yekatom on 11 November. 'We allege Mr Yekatom is criminally responsible for several counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the Central African Republic between 5 December 2013 and August 2014,' Bensouda said.
A TimesLIVE report notes that Bensouda is carrying out two separate investigations into conflicts in the CAR. Yekatom's arrest is the first in the more recent conflict. Yekatom's charges include murder, mutilation, torture, cruel treatment and recruiting child soldiers into his so-called anti-Balaka militia group, responsible for attacks on Muslims between December 2013 and August 2014, prosecutors said. Yekatom was wanted in particular for leading an attack in Bangui on 5 December, 2013, when his group armed with guns, grenades and machetes, attacked Muslims in Boeing district, killing between six to 13 civilians. Full report on the EWN site Full TimesLIVE report
Yekatom's lawyer said his client was tortured in detention before his transfer to The Hague. ' The arrest was, according to him, brutal,' lawyer Xavier-Jean Keita told the court. 'He was tortured, he says. He was beaten with Kalashnikovs and rifle butts, and he still has visible signs of the beating.'
A report on the News24 site notes that he said the medical team at the ICC detention centre was aware of the issue. Yekatom's lawyer added that his 'fundamental rights had been violated' because he had been denied access to a judge in the CAR, and the first time he had seen a lawyer was a week ago at the ICC.
Judge Antoine Kesia-Mbe Mindua said he could not immediately deal with the allegations of torture. 'You have raised a very important problem and we cannot deal with it orally. We have to have written submissions, at this stage we cannot discuss this question, nor resolve it.' A report on the allAfrica site notes that the court set 30 April as the date for a hearing at which judges will hear prosecution evidence and decide whether to proceed with the case.