Marking the five-year anniversary of the establishment of the Special Criminal Court (SCC) in Central African Republic (CAR), Tity Agbahey, Amnesty International's Central Africa Campaigner said today:
"In a country where civilians have paid a heavy price in the face of atrocities by armed groups and all parties in conflict, the establishment of this court was a major positive step.
"Seen as a symbol of hope for many victims, the establishment of the SCC was a response to an unanimous call for justice and accountability. But more efforts must be made to get the court fully operational and ensure victims of the heinous crimes that have taken place will soon see the first trials.
"This includes increased and sustainable financial support from international partners, and a better coordination with national criminal courts and the International Criminal Court.
"The recent series of arrests of individuals transferred to the SCC is a positive step for the fight against impunity in the country. These individuals should be brought promptly before the judges, be informed of the reasons for their detention and be assisted by lawyers."
The Special Criminal Court was created by law on 3 June 2015. It is a "hybrid" tribunal that has jurisdiction over grave human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law committed since 2003.
Its inaugural session was held in October 2018. According to the latest publicly available information, there are currently eight cases in which the investigation is closed, eight cases under investigation and about 15 cases under preliminary examination.
Following killings in the town of Ndele (North East) in April this year, the SCC announced on 8 May it will investigate the case. Nine people were arrested in connection to those events. Nine other individuals, members of the armed group UPC were arrested on 19 May in relation with clashes in Bambouti, Obo and Zemio (Southeast).
The Central African Republic has a long history of coups, armed conflicts and violence targeted at civilians. The current conflict kicked off in March 2013, when a mostly-Muslim armed coalition known as the Seleka violently ousted the government.
By mid-2013, an animist and Christian militia known as Anti-Balaka had sprung up to resist the Seleka, and it began carrying out large-scale attacks against Muslim communities in the western part of the country. Both sides have committed crimes under international law. The situation is also under investigation by the International Criminal Court since September 2014.
A peace agreement was signed on 6 February 2019 between the CAR government and 14 armed groups, however serious abuses against civilians continue, including unlawful killings and sexual violence. About 80% of the territory is still controlled by armed groups.