Central African Republic: Confirmation of Charges Hearing for Two Central African Militia Leaders Set for This Week

The confirmation of charges hearing for two militia leaders from the Central African Republic (CAR), who are accused of persecuting Muslims in that country, is scheduled to start this week at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona have been in the court's detention for more than a year and a half over crimes allegedly committed during 2013 and 2014.

Earlier scheduled for last June, the confirmation hearing was postponed at the request of the prosecution, which needed more time to institute sufficient measures to protect witnesses and victims.

The crimes alleged against the duo include murder, torture and cruel treatment, mutilation, intentional attack against civilians, and intentional attack against buildings dedicated to religion. Other charges for the alleged enlistment of children under the age of 15 years and actively involving them in hostilities, displacement of the civilian population, and destruction of the adversary's property.

The prosecution alleges that fighters of the Anti-Balaka, a predominantly Christian militia led by the accused, committed numerous crimes as they fought against the Seleka, a coalition of armed groups predominantly composed of Muslims. It says the attacks were carried out in furtherance of an organizational policy to target Muslims in retribution for crimes committed by the Seleka.

According to the prosecution, Ngaïssona, 52, was the most senior leader and the "National General Coordinator" of the Anti-Balaka militia, which was founded to fight the Seleka, who had deposed president François Bozizé. Ngaïssona was arrested in France in December 2018 and was transferred to The Hague in January 2019.

The prosecution alleges that, following meetings in Cameroon and France between Bozizé, Ngaïssona, and others loyal to the former president, it was agreed to organize pro-Bozizé forces to overthrow the Seleka. Thereafter, Ngaïssona reportedly provided finances to found the Anti-Balaka militia; transferred money from Bozizé to the militia to prepare attacks, procured ammunition, and gave orders such as to attack perceived enemy positions.

Yekatom, 44, was transferred to The Hague last November following his arrest from the Central African Parliament, where he was a member. According to his arrest warrant, Anti-Balaka attacks targeted a large number of Muslim communities following a consistent pattern of violence, including forcible displacement, killings, torture, deprivation of physical liberty, looting of Muslim homes and businesses, and destruction of mosques and Muslim homes.

Yekatom served in the national army, the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), before being elected a member of parliament. The prosecution says he commanded an Anti-Balaka group consisting of around 3,000 men, of whom 200 were former FACA members. It also says Yekatom was a top leader in the Anti-Balaka militia, representing it at high-level meetings and negotiations.

In May 2014, the Central African government referred the situation in the CAR to the ICC. Four months later, the prosecutor announced that she had opened an investigation into the violence experienced in the country since August 2012.

Last March, Pre-Trial Chamber II judges rejected defense appeals and affirmed the joinder of the cases of Ngaïssona and Yekatom. In ordering the joinder last February, judges said a joint trial would enhance the fairness and expeditiousness of the proceedings by avoiding duplication of evidence, inconsistency in the presentation and assessment of evidence, undue impact on witnesses and victims, and unnecessary expense.

According to the judges, the alleged crimes in both cases are "virtually indistinguishable" as they constitute the same widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population in the same geographical areas. The judges also said the specific crimes alleged to have been committed by Yekatom and Ngaïssona correspond to a large extent because all the crimes alleged against Yekatom are also alleged against Ngaïssona. As a result, the judges said the evidence the prosecutor intends to rely on to establish the charges is expected to be substantially the same.

In affirming the joinder, the judges noted that under Rule 136, the chamber may join or sever cases on its own volition. Rule 136(1) of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence provides that persons accused jointly shall be tried together unless the trial chamber orders that separate trials are necessary, in order to avoid serious prejudice to the accused, to protect the interests of justice, or because a person jointly accused has pleaded guilty. Article 64(5) of the court's Rome Statute also provides that trial judges may direct that there be joinder or severance of charges against more than one accused.

The hearing is scheduled for September 19-27.

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