Human Rights Watch Alert: Seeds of Justice in the Central African Republic

Central Africa Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra at his inauguration in Bangui, Central African Republic, March 30, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant

Seeds of Justice in the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic has had a horrific decade.

But there are also seeds of hope for those seeking justice for war crimes.

Ten years ago, the rebel Seleka alliance took control of the capital Bangui, promising a new era of peace. Within days, they started killing civilians, looting and destroying neighborhoods and villages, and raping women and girls.

Then, militias known as anti-balaka began to organize counter attacks. They also targeted civilians.

The humanitarian situation rapidly deteriorated. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the country as refugees. Many others were displaced internally.

A national negotiation emerged in 2015, known as the Bangui Forum. Rather than seek amnesties for perpetrators of grave crimes, the Forum instead worked from the idea there can be no peace without justice.

With that thinking, there’s been progress in the judicial sphere many once thought unimaginable.

Following a government referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the court has issued numerous arrest warrants, including for the Seleka’s alleged deputy leader. The ICC has also brought to the dock three anti-balaka leaders and one from the Seleka.

Plus, there’s a new Special Criminal Court in Bangui to try war crimes and crimes against humanity alongside the ICC that has international support. The court has concluded one major trial and, while it has its challenges, it continues to be an effective tool to hold perpetrators accountable.

Ten years on, the crisis in the Central African Republic remains acute. But ending the cycles of violence is at least possible if the seeds of justice are allowed to grow.