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Central African Republic hands over war crimes suspect to ICC

Author: Daniel Danis | Published: Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Seleka rebels stand in the pillaged bedroom of former Central African Republic president Francois Bozize in Bangui on March 28, 2013. Bozize took refuge in Cameroon. Credit|SIA KAMBOU/AFP via Getty Images

The International Criminal Court is set to begin the trial for war crimes suspect Mahamat Said Abdel Kani after he was arrested and handed over to the court by the authorities of the Central African on Sunday, Jan. 24.

Mr Said, a self-proclaimed Séléka military general, is suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Bangui.

CAR exploded into violence in early December 2014 amid mounting resentment toward a Muslim-led government.

Fighting had already started in 2013 when Seleka rebels seized power in Bangui, with anti-Balaka militias supportive of former President Francois Bozize fighting back.

The predominantly Christian anti-Balaka militia attacked positions held by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels.

Seleka is a coalition of armed groups predominantly composed of Muslims opposed to former president François Bozizé – and the Anti-Balaka – a movement opposed to the Seleka and supportive of former president Bozizé.

The violence allegedly led to thousands of deaths and left hundreds of thousands displaced.

The former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had warned of “ethno-religious cleansing” in CAR, with lynchings, decapitations and sexual violence all going unpunished.

CAR is rich in gold, diamonds and other natural resources but decades of unrest and mismanagement have left most of its people stuck in poverty.

According to The Sentry’s investigations, Mahamat Saïd, 50 years old, is a diamond dealer who played an instrumental role in the financing Séléka armed faction, the Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic.

In 2015, he was accused of being responsible for committing mass atrocities in the capital Bangui, intending to prevent the holding of a referendum and elections.

A warrant of arrest was issued in 2019 for his involvement in torture, enforced disappearance, and other inhuman acts between March 2013 and January 2014.

The Single Judge of Pre-Trial Chamber II at the ICC, found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that, from at least March 2013 until at least January 2014, a widespread and systematic attack was conducted by members of the Seleka against the civilian population and those perceived to be collectively responsible for, complicit with or supportive of the former Bozizé government and, later, of the Anti-Balaka.

On 30 May 2014, the Government of the CAR referred the situation in the CAR since 1 August 2012 to the Court.

On 24 September 2014, the ICC Prosecutor, Ms Fatou Bensouda, opened an investigation on the situation the Central African Republic.

As a commander of Seleka armed faction, the ICC found Mahamat Said responsible for crimes against humanity (imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty; torture; persecution; enforced disappearance; and other inhumane acts); and war crimes (torture and cruel treatment).

“Mr Said is suspected of having committed these crimes jointly with others and/or through others or ordered, solicited or induced these crimes or aided, abetted or otherwise assisted in the commission of these crimes; or in any other way contributed to the commission or these crimes,” the Single Judge of Pre-Trial Chamber II declared.

Two days ago, Mr. Said was surrendered to the International Criminal Court by the authorities of the Central African Republic.

The arrest came against the backdrop of a state of emergency in Central African Republic, with fighting between the country’s army, backed by UN, Russian and Rwandan troops, and rebels to overturn a December 27 vote in which President Faustin-Archange Touadera was reelected.

Under the name Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), armed groups launched an assault on Bangui ahead of the election to protest against the exclusion of former president Bozize.

The CPC, which includes formerly rival armed groups, posed a direct threat to the capital, Bangui, before being repelled by government forces and the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA.

The initial appearance of Mahamat Said Abdel Kani is scheduled for Thursday 28 January 2021, at 10:00 (The Hague local time) in Courtroom I of the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or “Court”) before Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala, Single Judge of Pre-Trial Chamber II.

Two other suspects in the violence in Central African Republic are currently on trial at the ICC.

Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona, former head of the football federation, and Alfred Yekatom are from the largely Christian anti-Balaka militias.

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