Week in Review: CAR's challenges, a trial for Ethiopia, and Burundi withdraws from the ICC

Week in Review: CAR's challenges, a trial for Ethiopia, and Burundi withdraws from the ICC©UN
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in Central African Republic
2 min 26Approximate reading time

A highlight of this week in transitional justice was the visit of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to the Central African Republic (CAR). 

In this fragile state ravaged by war, Guterres spoke up for the rule of law, the UN mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) and for justice rather than impunity. He had trouble convincing his Central African audience, which doubts MINUSCA’s impartiality and sees it as being on the side of CAR President Ange-Félix Touadera.

The CAR is a country which “a group of criminals is trying to descend into Hell”, the UN Secretary General said on Thursday as he visited a camp for displaced Muslims in Bangassou. “I know it is difficult to talk of reconciliation when you have suffered,” he continued. “But the only solution is reconciliation and justice.”

The CAR is still far from that goal. “With a government that has become weak and powerless, violence rules,” CAR expert

Didier Niewiadowski said in an interview with JusticeInfo.net. “Impunity, which has become almost the watchword for governing, continues to fuel corruption and an instinct to survive at any cost.”

The UN peacekeepers of MINUSCA which are supposed to protect the people are fuelling their suffering. Entire battalions, such as the Congolese contingent, have been recalled after accusations of rape, violence and various forms of trafficking. In Bangassou, a town divided by communal and religious violence, MINUSCA troops are accused of being “passive” or “partial”, notably the Moroccan soldiers.

In this context, the justice advocated by Guterres and the international community seems far, as reflected in the difficulties of launching the Special Criminal Court (SCC).  

“Political management of the Special Criminal Court will be very challenging for two reasons,” French researcher Thierry Vircoulon said in an interview with JusticeInfo. “First, the conflict is not over, so it is not a question of post-conflict justice but of justice during conflict. Secondly, most of the suspects already in detention are Antibalaka (a militia group created as a response to Seleka rebels) and some of the elite in Bangui are sympathetic towards them.” 

Didier Niewiadowski is just as harsh in his analysis. “The task, which is to try war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since 2003, is enormous as more than half of the country is completely out of the authorities’ control, victims have sometimes been perpetrators too, there are no prisons worthy of that name and the Prosecutor is a former representative of Congolese President Kabila’s military justice, which doesn’t bode well for his efficiency,” Niewiadowski told JusticeInfo. “So it is hard to believe that the Court will work.” “A national court can only work within the framework of a State,” he adds. “Where is the State in the Central African Republic?”

And yet, all the analyses show that only justice and an end to impunity can bring reconciliation and lasting peace, even decades after the events. And so, as a Dutch court prepares to try a former official of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia known as the “Red Terror”, Girmachew Alemu Aneme, an associate law professor at the University of Addis Ababa explains that “it is important for past as well as current politicians, including the ones in Ethiopia, to understand that they cannot commit crimes and run away and hide in Europe and the United States to escape justice.” And, he told JusticeInfo, “it shows for all engaged in political executions past and present and to the wider society that justice will be served even after long years.”

This is what Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza hopes to avoid as the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court became effective on October 27. This withdrawal is a blow against international justice and “comes at a time when the machine (of repression) continues killing people with impunity in Burundi”, said Lambert Nigarura, president of the NGO Coalition of Burundi on Friday.