Arusha, September 25, 2014 (FH) – International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has announced she is opening an investigation into crimes committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) since 2012.

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The ICC is already trying Congolese senator and former vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba for crimes committed in the CAR in 2002 and 2003 by former rebels of his MLC movement.

“Today, I am announcing that I have made the decision to open a second investigation in the Central African Republic with respect to crimes allegedly committed since 2012,” says a statement issued by Bensouda on Wednesday.

The ICC Prosecutor has warned perpetrators of crimes in the CAR several times that they are liable to be brought before the international court.

She opened a preliminary investigation in February into the new situation in the CAR. At the end of May, the CAR’s transitional president Catherine Samba-Panza asked the Court to investigate.

“My Office has gathered and scrupulously analysed relevant information from multiple reliable sources. Based on this independent and comprehensive analysis, I have concluded that an investigation is warranted,” says Bensouda.“The information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that both the Seleka and the anti-Balaka groups have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

These crimes include murder, rape, forced displacement, persecution, pillaging, attacks against humanitarian missions and the use of children under fifteen in combat, according to the Prosecutor. “The list of atrocities is endless,” she says.

Promising to work in an independent and impartial way, Bensouda said her office would now “work to directly collect criminal evidence with a view to identifying and prosecuting those responsible for the most serious crimes”. 

“A welcome step”Bensouda’s announcement was welcomed by organizations that have been pushing for it, including the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Central African Human Rights League (LCDH) and Central African Human Rights Monitor (OCDH).

The three organizations have published several reports on human rights abuses in the CAR.

“The launch of an investigation by the ICC is a welcome step which we have called for given the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic since the end of 2012,” said FIDH president Karim Lahidji.

OCDH president Mathias Morouba urged the ICC Prosecutor to “keep her promises and investigate both the anti-Balaka and the ex-Seleka and other armed groups, to identify those most responsible and contribute fully to the fight against impunity”.

He added that the “cooperation of the Central African Republic which has requested this investigation will be crucial, as well as that of all states affected”.

LCDH president Joseph Bindoumi called on the international community to “continue its efforts and commitment in the Central African Republic and make the fight against impunity one of its priorities”.

“The action of the ICC is welcome, the Special Criminal Court is essential and the long-term engagement of MINUSCA (the new UN mission in the CAR) is important to support those working to fight impunity,” he said.

The CAR ratified the Rome Statute, founding treaty of the ICC, on October 3, 2001.