A Moment for Justice in the Central African Republic

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Anti-Balaka fighters in Gambo, Mboumou province, Central African Republic, on August 16, 2017.

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Anti-Balaka fighter in Gambo, Mboumou province, Central African Republic, on August 16, 2017. 

© 2017 Alexis Huguet

On December 11, the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirmed charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for Central African Republic militia leaders Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona and Alfred Yekatom. While they can appeal the charges, as it stands, they will be the highest ranking anti-balaka leaders to face trial for crimes committed during the country’s most recent conflict.

Beginning in 2013, fighting between the Seleka, a brutal rebel coalition of mostly Muslims from the Central African Republic’s northeast that had assumed control of the country, and militias called anti-balaka, displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Targeting any Muslims perceived to be Seleka, anti-balaka fighters launched gruesome attacks on civilians in Muslim neighborhoods.

I remember speaking with a Muslim youth who had been attacked with machetes by former basketball teammates who had become anti-balaka. “They were once like my cousins, now they wanted to kill me,” he said.

The anti-balaka proclaimed to be liberators of the country, but they behaved like the Seleka. Their fighters targeted civilians, used rape as a weapon of war, forced children into their ranks, and deliberately targeted homes and properties of Muslims.

The ICC is right to move forward with these cases and hopefully there will be charges against other responsible anti-balaka leaders, some of whom hold government positions. And the prosecution of Ngaissona and Yekatom puts in stark contrast the absence of proceedings against those Seleka leaders and their allies who continue to control vast territory in the country, although they could be under seal.

Nevertheless, ICC’s move marks an important step in advancing justice for victims of crimes committed in the Central African Republic since 2013. The prosecution of these two anti-balaka leaders should serve as a warning to other would-be perpetrators: justice might be slow, but it plows forward.

Read more: hrw.org

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