Week in Review: Central African Republic, Geneva, Tunisia and the environment

Week in Review: Central African Republic, Geneva, Tunisia and the environment©FETHI BELAID / AFP
Ashraf Aouadi, head of Tunisian NGO I-Watch, in Tunis
2 min 47Approximate reading time

History resonates with time, and the crimes of the past cannot be erased from memory as if with the stroke of a pen. And so this week in the Central African Republic (CAR), courageous NGOs said no to amnesty and impunity. 

According to a statement by the Network of Central African NGOs for Human Rights Promotion (RONGDH), such an amnesty has already been suggested to President Faustin-Archange Touadéra by the African Union. This is quite simply “a macabre and doomed proposal”, according to lawyer Mathias Mourouba, RONGDH deputy national coordinator, as quoted on April 18 by the Network of Central African Journalists for Human Rights. An amnesty could “turn the victims of today into the killers of tomorrow”, explains this NGO network. “The human rights situation in the CAR seems worse today than a year ago when President Touadéra was democratically elected as Head of State,” adds JusticeInfo. “From Ouaka province, violence has now spread to the northwest, where a new armed group called `Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation` (3R) is carrying out massacres and rapes.”

For now, the President has refused any amnesty, saying this idea has been rejected by Central Africans themselves. The fact remains, however, that the judicial system – like the rest of the country – is in a state of collapse. The only hope of justice lies in the Special Criminal Court that is to be made up of national and international judges and staff. This Court has a mandate to investigate and prosecute serious human rights violations committed in the CAR since 2003. But it will require that the international community fund it, that  suspects be arrested and that witnesses to feel safe enough to testify. Otherwise, say the NGOs, the endless cycle of crimes, vengeance and looting of the country’s resources will continue in the CAR.

The risks of trying to ignore the past have not spared Geneva, either, explains Pierre Hazan in an article on controversial plans for an Armenian genocide memorial on the shores of Lake Geneva. “The saga began in 2005 when the Geneva administrative council approved the idea of a monument to the Armenian tragedy,” writes Hazan. “The Armenian genocide was recognized by the parliament of Geneva a few years earlier in 2001 and by the Swiss Federal Parliament in 2003. The 1915-1917 genocide left more than a million Armenians dead, according to most historians.” Then began the Turkish government’s attempts to stop construction of this monument entitled “Streetlights of Memory”. Twelve years later, it has still not found a home in Switzerland. But “the twelve long years of opposition to the construction of this monument drew media attention, led artist Melik Ohanian to write a book about the ongoing saga, created a diplomatic mini-crisis between Turkey and Switzerland involving the United Nations, and also led the artist to reimagine the work in Venice as a metaphor for the impossibility still today of rising above the denial of the Turkish State”. 

Tunisia, the last bastion of the Arab Spring, has also been going through a difficult transition in recent months, including in the media sector. “For the past few days an apparently uncontroversial issue has been causing a big stir in Tunisia,” explains JusticeInfo correspondent Olfa Belhassine. “That is regulation of the broadcasting sector, as part of the transition.” Lawyers and NGOs are worried that democratic achievements are now under threat. Belhassine quotes Professor Larbi Chouikha, a political scientist and teacher at the Press Institute in Tunis. “When economic and political powers unite to subjugate the mainstream media, it starts first with spreading buzz, diverting and distracting public attention from the real issues, devaluing public debate and people’s intelligence, resulting in not only public institutions losing credibility but also disregard for professional and ethical principles, ” he warns. “This is how we lose our freedom!”

The difficulties of reconciliation and transitional justice do not stop civil society from believing in them. As reported in another JusticeInfo article, environmental parties known as the Global Greens are urging the international community “to reorganize international environmental law on the model of international criminal law”. “We urge the international community to get involved in the creation of an International Environmental Court under the authority of the United Nations,” they write. “This Court should have mandatory powers over national justices. It should be designed to prevent and judge the most serious environmental crimes and thus be the core element of a binding architecture of international environmental law.”