Central African Republic: Judges Confirm Charges Against Two Former Militiamen

International Criminal Court, The Hague

International Criminal Court (ICC) judges have confirmed various charges against two former militia leaders in the Central African Republic (CAR) - Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona - and committed them to trial. However, part of the charges brought by the prosecutor were not confirmed due to insufficient evidence.

On December 11, 2019, Pre-Trial Chamber II issued its unanimous decision in which it stated that there are substantial grounds to believe that during an armed conflict in the CAR between the Seleka and the Anti-Balaka militia groups, the Anti-Balaka carried out widespread attacks against the Muslim civilian population. According to the chamber, because of those civilians' religious or ethnic affiliation, they were considered to be supporters of the Seleka and therefore collectively responsible for the crimes allegedly committed by the Seleka. The alleged crimes took place between September 2013 and December 2014.

Among the charges confirmed against the duo are the war crimes and crimes against humanity of intentionally directing an attack against the civilian population, murder, rape, intentionally directing an attack against a building dedicated to religion, deportation or forcible transfer of population, and displacement of the civilian population.

Other charges include intentionally destroying or seizing the property of an adversary, pillaging, severe deprivation of physical liberty, cruel treatment, torture, other inhumane acts, and persecution. They were allegedly committed in several localities including the capital Bangui, as well as in Bossangoa, Yamwara School, and the PK9-Mbaïki Axis.

The chamber found that there are substantial grounds to believe that Yekatom committed these crimes jointly with others or through other persons or, in the alternative, ordered the commission of these crimes. The evidence also showed that Ngaïssona aided, abetted, or otherwise assisted in the commission of the crimes or "contributed in any other way to their commission by a group of persons acting with a common purpose."

Furthermore, the chamber found that there are substantial grounds to believe that Yekatom committed the war crimes of conscripting, enlisting, and using children under the age of 15 years to participate actively in hostilities. This charge was not confirmed against Ngaïssona due to insufficient evidence.

The chamber stated that evidence showed that there were child soldiers within the ranks of the Anti-Balaka, including in Yekatom's group, in several locations including the Yamwara School base, the Sekia base, and Pissa. According to the confirmation decision, children who joined the Anti-Balaka, voluntarily or forcibly, were given the roles of messengers or spies, sent to operate checkpoints, and mobilized to participate in attacks. It added that the children were also subjected to physical and mental violence by Anti-Balaka elements and were given drugs.

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 served in the national army, the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), before being elected a member of parliament. The prosecution alleges that 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. Yekatom was transferred to the court in November 2018 following his arrest by CAR authorities.

Pre-Trial Chamber II, which is composed of Judge Antoine Kesia-Mbe Mindua (Presiding), Judge Tomoko Akane, and Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala, conducted the confirmation of charges hearing that took place last September and October.

The confirmation decision shows that on December 5, 2013, Anti-Balaka elements led by Yekatom attacked the Boeing market in Bangui, targeting shops owned by Muslims and killing between five and 13 Muslim shop owners. They also killed four Muslims at Cattin. Following these attacks, nearly all the Muslim residents of Boeing and Cattin fled to other neighborhoods in Bangui, other parts of the CAR, or to neighboring countries. Evidence shows that by December 20, 2013, the militia had destroyed the Boeing Mosque upon Yekatom's orders.

The chamber also found that on December 5, 2013, two Anti-Balaka groups carried out an attack on Bossangoa, targeting Muslim civilians and killing 28 persons who were unarmed or not taking part in hostilities; while one woman was raped. In the days following these attacks, the Anti-Balaka pillaged, looted, and eventually destroyed the houses of Muslims as well as Bossangoa's central mosque. The chamber found that as a result, thousands of Muslims fled and sought shelter at the École de la Liberté, where they remained until their evacuation, mainly to Chad, in February and April 2014. The chamber found substantial grounds to believe that Ngaïssona committed these crimes.

However, the chamber did not confirm part of the crimes the prosecutor blamed on Ngaïssona. It stated that the evidence showed that the Anti-Balaka elements active in some of the concerned locations retained a high degree of operational autonomy and Ngaïssona had limited, if any, knowledge and control over their criminal actions. Accordingly, the chamber found that the evidence was insufficient to establish substantial grounds to believe that Ngaïssona committed the crimes alleged in Boeing Muslim Cemetery, Yaloké, Gaga, Zawa, Bossemptélé, Boda, Carnot, Berbérati, and Guen.

The defense and the prosecutor can request authorization from Pre-Trial Chamber II to appeal the confirmation decision.

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