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Bangui, May 25, 2015 (FH) – The Central African Republic (CAR) wants to learn lessons from the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC), set up within the Senegalese justice system to try former Chadian president Hissène Habré. It is in this context, after the CAR voted to set up its own Special Court, that meetings took place last week between envoys from the EAC, Central African human rights organizations and local lawyers, who will certainly have a role to play in the Special Court.

A bill to set up the Special Court was adopted by the CAR’s transitional parliament on April 22 by a big majority of votes. It had been submitted to Parliament by the government on February 6.

The Court’s mandate is to bring to justice those suspected of the most serious crimes (war crimes and crimes against humanity) committed on CAR territory since 2003.

Last week’s discussions in Bangui focused notably on what is at stake in setting up such a court in the CAR. Central African lawyers followed with interest explanations on the development of the EAC, where the trial is due to start on July 20 of the former Chadian president, who has been living in exile in Senegal since he was driven from power in 1990. Habré is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed during his eight-year rule in Chad.

“The Extraordinary African Chambers (based in Senegal), an African initiative, and the Special Criminal Court (for the CAR) are part of the judicial system of these two countries, which is an advantage in terms of cost, proximity to the populations concerned and potential to strengthen national judicial capacities,” said Franck Petit, who heads Outreach for the EAC. He put forward the view that the Special Criminal Court, supported by the United Nations, will lead Central African lawyers to change a certain number of habits that have helped discredit the national judicial system.

Local lawyers and magistrates also raised concerns about the security of the future Court’s judges and their families, the non-retroactivity of the Court’s mandate, the fact that the CAR still has the death penalty, and the Court’s contribution to re-establishing security in the country.

For Central African lawyer Célestin Nzala, these are all legitimate questions. However, he believes a “bold solution for the Central African Republic” is needed, otherwise “impunity will continue to fuel the cycle of violence”.

MP Blaise Fleury Otto, who chairs the parliamentary commission on legislation, is of the same opinion. “The creation of the Special Criminal Court in the Central African Republic responds to the desire of the whole population to end impunity for the most serious crimes committed in the CAR since January 1, 2003,” he says.

After being passed by the transitional parliament, the bill on the Special Court must now be promulgated by President Catherine Samba-Panza. “This will happen soon,” promised Justice Minister Aristide Sokambi, who attended the opening of the discussions.

Human rights organizations have urged the CAR government to sign it into law as quickly as possible.

According to the bill passed by parliament, the Special Criminal Court for the CAR will be a hybrid court within the country’s judicial system, i.e. composed of both Central African and international judges. The Court’s President will be Central African, while the Prosecutor will be from another country.