Central African Republic: why the Truth Commission was dismissed

The Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission (CVJRR) of the Central African Republic has been sacked and replaced. On May 3 2024, it saw a unit of the internal security forces close its offices. Later, the government announced the suspension of its eleven commissioners’ mandates. At the same time, a call for candidates was published for new commissioners, discrediting the outgoing ones. So what happened?

In the Central African Republic, the eleven commissioners of the Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission (CVJRR) were dismissed in May 2024. Photo: The commissioners of the CVJRR pose outdoors.
The eleven commissioners of the Truth Commission of the Central African Republic (Marie-Edith Douzima, chairwoman, in the centre, wearing a gold-coloured suit) were dismissed in May. During their three years in office, they had heard only about ten victims. Photo: © Franck Petit / Justice Info
5 min 49Approximate reading time

“It was a Friday. At 12 noon, I was out running an errand in the town centre,” says Huguet Francis Mongombé, former commissioner of the Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission (CVJRR). “A colleague called me and asked me to hurry back to the office. ‘The gendarmerie has come to close the doors of the Commission’, he told me on the phone. I quickly went back. I arrived and found a massive presence of gendarmes.”

On that day, CVJRR first vice-president Serge Hubert Bangui was returning from a mission to Nola, in the southwest of the country, to collect, he says, testimonies about the deadly events that took place between 2012 and 2016 in the Central African Republic. “When we arrived, there were around 20 hooded gendarmes in two vehicles. They told us to take the essentials and leave the office,” he says.

“Suddenly, some gendarmes arrived and told us that they had been ordered to close the headquarters,” says Marie-Edith Douzima, president of the CVJRR, who was on site. “I asked them: ‘Who gave the order. Do you have a document?’ They said ‘No, it's just an order we received. So far, we haven’t received any documents’.”

In the rush, Mongombé was only able to take his notebook, a few books and his computer. “Since that day, I haven’t set foot there,” he says. For the former CVJRR commissioner, this act is “an aggression on the part of the government, in violation of the law creating the CVJRR, which sets out the conditions for terminating the mandate of commissioners.”

“Proven mismanagement”

On May 7, four days after the closure of the CVJRR, a decree was read out on national radio, dismissing all the commissioners of this institution.

Then, a few days later, the government spokesman called a press conference and gave an official explanation. “In the Council of Ministers, the Minister for Humanitarian Action informed the government of the problems that had arisen with the CVJRR since it was set up. Rivalry, a war of positions between the members of the commission has undermined the work internally,” said Minister of Communication and government spokesman Maxime Balalou. “There are cases of proven mismanagement, resources allocated by partners used for other purposes, misuse of material resources. This is not right.”

The government is therefore abruptly ending the mandate of the eleven commissioners of the CVJRR, a commission created in 2020, and is launching a recruitment procedure for new commissioners, who have until June 26 to submit their applications.

The reasons put forward by the State are mostly confirmed by some of the commissioners themselves, as well as by other justice and human rights players.

Serge-Hubert Bangui, for example, denies the accusations of embezzlement. “What document did the government use as a basis for saying that there was embezzlement? For us, it remains an allegation.” But he says that he has been warning of mismanagement for a long time: “The president has confiscated the institution’s accounts. On two occasions, the government allocated 200 million CFA francs [around 305,000 euros] to the commission. The president has always dealt with the accounting officer. But this is a matter for the plenary assembly [of the CVJRR]. Since 2022, we have repeatedly asked the Cour des Comptes to come and carry out an audit. It has never been done.”

When questioned by Justice Info, commission president Douzima denied having confiscated the management of the accounts: “The law stipulates that the Ministry of Finance must appoint an accountant to the CVJRR. He was appointed in January 2023. I was just the authorising officer, but the real financial manager was the accountant. Before the appointment of the accountant, any outflow of money required two signatures: mine and that of the vice-president.”

An intractable leadership crisis

The dysfunction within the CVJRR was hardly a secret. “Even at meetings and round-table discussions with partners, they [the commissioners] were clashing with each other in front of everyone. It didn’t make for a calm atmosphere in which to get on with the job,” says Evrard Bondadé, Secretary General of the Central African Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH).

According to another former commissioner, who requested anonymity, this dysfunction was due to a leadership crisis: “The president was not with us. She continued to work as a lawyer in violation of the law, which states that the office of commissioner is incompatible with other public, private or political offices,” he said. “In March 2023, we organised a round table with the partners and presented our strategies and work plans. All this went unheeded. Because just after that, the president left for The Hague. She returned in September. He points out that the quarrels within the CVJRR began very early. Just after the commissioners were sworn in, the setting up of the bureau already created divisions.

The law establishing the Commission stipulates in Article 13 that “commissioners shall work full-time for the CVJRR”. But “working as a lawyer is not incompatible with the CVJRR law. It’s a liberal profession,” retorts Douzima. “And that has not prevented me from carrying out my duties as president of the CVJRR.”

For the victims’ organisations, the situation was untenable. “We welcome this decision. It was wise to suspend the mandate of these commissioners. The task entrusted to them is immense. They had to start somewhere, but they were putting their own interests first (...) and wasting time with internal squabbles,” adds Bondadé of OCDH.

“It was predictable. There was no agreement between the commissioners. A group of partners tried to reconcile them, but it didn’t work. There is a leadership conflict and nothing works. I agree with the government,” says Francine Evodie Ndémadé, vice-president of the national platform of associations of victims of the crisis in CAR.

“The CVJRR has never been independent”

According to Serge Hubert Bangui, the commission president was imposed on them by the ministers of Justice and Humanitarian Action. When the commissioners realised that things were not moving forward, they decided to remove the president by majority vote. “Why did the government refuse to validate her dismissal?” he asks.

“When the decision was taken in April 2023 to remove the president, that’s when we saw the true face of politics,” says a former commissioner, who also asked to remain anonymous. “The CVJRR was never independent. The State introduced several civil servants into the CVJRR to control the commission’s actions. We were working with spies, and the government was aware of all our discussions.”

These allegations are confirmed by Aubin Kotto Kpènzè, director of the association of victims of Joseph Kony’s LRA, who says he is shocked, as are many of the victims. “The CVJRR is our hope. It should shed light on what happened to us. But the Central African authorities don’t want light to be shed," he says. “Some authorities are allegedly involved in crimes in this country. Today, they are in positions of responsibility, they govern and take decisions. The CVJRR is working with its hands tied.”

Some ten victims heard in three years

“In three years, the commission has not held a single public hearing. And fewer than a dozen victims, mostly community leaders, have been heard," says its president. “We were sworn in in July 2021,” says Serge Hubert Bangui. “We were able to rent a headquarters in July 2022. The rules of procedure drawn up when we took office were not validated until March 2023. All these steps have kept us going round in circles.”

Huguet Francis Mongombé thinks the commission has nevertheless been able to “move forward”. “When we started, the only working document we had was the law. Today, we have drawn up nearly 20 scientific documents to guide the CVJRR in its mission,” he says, citing strategies for intervention, communication, investigation, protection of witnesses and victims, rules of procedure and evidence, and a three-year plan.

According to several commissioners, the commission had entered a phase of “gathering information on events from 2012 to 2016" - a period from the birth of the Seleka rebellion to the first election of current president Faustin-Archange Touadéra. “We made a lot of progress,” says Douzima. And Bangui also tells us that “we had planned to start the hearings in December, after the September hearings”.

Whatever the former commissioners may say, Arnaud Yaliki, head of the Central African Observatory for Transitional Justice says “there is a [historical] peculiarity in the CAR: the commissioners are unable to overcome their divisions and concentrate on their mission. This unfortunately led to their ousting. I can’t say that they did nothing. But they could have done better if they had been responsible and professional.”

“In three years, the results are mixed,” he concludes. “Above all, it is deplorable for the many victims who are waiting for truth, justice, reparations and institutional reforms to correct the inequalities and injustices that are at the root of the recurring crises in the Central African Republic.”