Three suspects in the massacre of 46 civilians in Central African Republic will be tried before a special court created to investigate human rights abuses, a prosecutor in Bangui announced on Tuesday.
It is one of the first cases to go before the Special Criminal Court which has gotten off to a slow start and needs to intensify its efforts to prosecute war crimes, according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch.
Prosecutor Eric Didier Tambo referred the case to the special court, telling AFP it was “a massive crime which falls within the jurisdiction of this court”.
The massacre took place on May 21 when members of the 3R armed group launched a series of attacks on villages near the northwestern town of Paoua. HRW said the death toll was 46, all civilians.
Under pressure from the UN and the CAR government, the 3R group handed over three members suspected of carrying out the killings to the authorities.
A source close to the case said the ongoing investigation into the massacre could ultimately implicate the group’s leader.
He was named a “special military advisor” to the prime minister after a peace deal was signed in February between the government and 14 armed rebel groups, which control large swathes of CAR.
Critics have cast doubt over whether the court will target high-profile militia leaders and political figures amid concern that arrests could destablise the security situation.
Until Tuesday’s announcement, there had been no information about the four cases currently before the special court, inaugurated in October 2018 and composed of national and international judges. The other three cases are in preliminary investigation.
“It is difficult to imagine that (the court) will pursue the leaders of the most important armed groups, or the close entourage of the head of state,” said Hans de Marie Heungoup, a political scientist from the International Crisis Group.
One of the world’s poorest and most unstable nations, CAR spiralled into bloodshed after president Francois Bozize was overthrown in 2013 by a mainly Muslim rebel alliance which in turn was ousted.
Much of its territory fell to armed groups trying to control gold, diamond and oil deposits.
February’s peace deal was the eighth pact aimed at resolving conflict in the CAR since 2013.