Week in Review: CAR appoints Special Court judges as amnesty debate continues

Week in Review: CAR appoints Special Court judges as amnesty debate continues©afp
Central African Republic President Faustin Touadera
2 min 20Approximate reading time

The transitional justice week was again dominated by the Central African Republic (CAR), where there is a recurring debate on “impunity” for the parties to the country’s conflict – in the name of peace and reconciliation for some, but to the detriment of justice. 

The issue is all the more poignant in a week when the CAR, divided and still at war in much of the country, marked the second anniversary of the Bangui National Forum, of which the aim was national reconciliation. President Touadera, elected a year ago, has started setting up the Special Criminal Court, a hybrid court with Central African and international staff that is to try the innumerable war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the country. The first judges have been appointed, but doubts remain about the mission of this Court, especially since some African countries like Chad are openly calling for an amnesty. Central African human rights defenders even accuse the African Union of double-speak on impunity, and of secretly working for suspected war criminals to be amnestied. 

“There should be zero impunity in the Central African Republic,” says Joseph Bindoumi, head of the Bangui Forum follow-up committee, who was a guest on our Fondation Hirondelle partner Radio Ndeke Luka. And he reminded listeners that “it is impunity which encourages violence”. 

There is the same concern at Amnesty International, which launched on May 11, in partnership with Central African NGOs, a campaign called ‘Justice Now: Towards lasting peace in CAR’,” writes JusticeInfo.net. “Civil society organisations are joining together to ensure authorities in CAR do not neglect the vast scale of human suffering and distress that thousands and thousands of victims have faced during this conflict,” said Olivia Tchamba, Amnesty International’s Central Africa campaigner.

In Tunisia, a similar fight against impunity is being led by Manich Msamah (“I will not forgive”), a group of young people who are very active on the streets and on social media, explains JusticeInfo correspondent Olfa Belhassine. Manich Msamah is opposed to a law on “economic and financial reconciliation” that Tunisia’s president wants to push through. It would amnesty economic crimes committed under former president Ben Ali, who was deposed in 2012, in the name of economic efficiency and reintegrating former bigwigs of the Ben Ali regime. As one of the demonstrators in Tunis told our correspondent, “by granting amnesty to the corrupt people of Ben Ali’s time, the law would give a green light to the corrupt of today, who are multiplying before our very eyes”. And, according to the activists of Manich Msamah, it would “bury transitional justice, kill the revolution”.

This issue is also a concern in The Gambia, which recently chased out its long-time dictator Yahja Jammeh after more than 20 years of abuses and corruption. Since the election of new president Adama Barrow, victims and their families have been calling for the judicial authorities to arrest, indict, try and convict the suspected perpetrators of abuses. But, like in the CAR, the justice system is broken. Even human rights defenders like Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch, warn against undue haste. "It doesn't seem like the judicial system is ready for serious trials," said Brody, a US-based lawyer who helped the victims of Chad's former dictator Hissène Habré prosecute him successfully more than a quarter century after leaving power. "It's not enough to have victims. You need to have people who can prove the individual responsibility of a higher-up," he added, after a recent visit to The Gambia in the company of Chadian victims. 

But this caution does not seem to convince Gambian victims, who are crying for justice. As AFP quoted one victim as saying, “if justice is delayed, the pain is still there".