Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), read the following statement:
“The Central African Republic achieved a milestone in the fight against impunity this week when the country’s Special Criminal Court held its inaugural session on 22 October. We congratulate the Government and its partners for their efforts to make this possible.
The Court – which is composed of national and international staff – will investigate, prosecute and try serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, in particular the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes that may have been committed in the Central African Republic since 1 January 2003.
As you know, impunity has deep roots in the history of the Central African Republic, with the repeated pattern of granting blanket amnesties widely seen as contributing to the cycle of violence. Thousands of Central Africans have been killed in successive conflicts and hundreds of thousands internally displaced or forced to flee into neighbouring countries. You may recall that we put out a mapping report last year laying out the kinds of terrible violations that have taken place in the country.
To this end, it is essential that the SCC’s prosecution strategy should prioritise the most serious crimes, including acts of sexual violence, and to identify the individuals who bear the greatest responsibility. The adoption of concrete and effective protection measures for victims and witnesses is also key. Of equal importance is ensuring the right to a fair and expeditious trial of all individuals.
The credibility and legitimacy of prosecution initiatives require that they be conducted in a non-discriminatory and objective manner, regardless of who the alleged perpetrators may be.
We therefore commend ongoing efforts by the SCC, with the support of the State and interested partners, to seek to reinforce or develop the national and international capacity for investigation and prosecution, as well as to promote an independent, impartial and effective judiciary, ensuring also the means to mount adequate legal defence.
The UN Human Rights Office stands ready to continue providing support, including for judicial proceedings, to the SCC.”
Responding to questions from the press, Ms. Shamdasani said that the holding of the Special Court’s inaugural session was a huge step for the Central African Republic, especially given its history, towards breaking the cycle of impunity. The national courts had also contributed to the effort, but it was important to point out that the newly operational Special Court had a mandate to hold its proceedings in a very public manner, thus conveying a message to perpetrators that human rights violations would no longer be tolerated. The International Criminal Court was also considering the situation in the Central African Republic, so that the two Courts would be working concurrently. A multi-partner trust fund had been set up in connection with the Court’s budget, which, for the coming five years totalled USD61 million; the 2018 budget, for USD10.7 million, would be covered by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). The court would be a hybrid one: currently it had 11 magistrates on staff, but eventually a total of 25 judges would be appointed, including 13 nationals of the Central African Republic and 12 international judges.
Asked if its more public mandate could foment violence given the precarious security situation in the country, Ms Shamdasani said that that was always a risk. The security situation was still worrying, with ongoing clashes in some parts of the country. Despite the risks involved, the Court’s work would be very important. OHCHR called for adequate measures of protection to be afforded to victims and witnesses so that they would feel confident in coming forward.