May 22nd, 2007 05:29 EST
Central African Republic Under Probe of International Criminal Court
Acting on a referral by the Government of the Central African Republic (CAR), the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) today announced an investigation into alleged crimes - especially widespread rape - committed there in 2002 and 2003, and voiced support for efforts by the United Nations to achieve a comprehensive solution to ongoing instability in the country.
“My Office has carefully reviewed information from a range of sources. We believe that grave crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the Court were committed in the Central African Republic,” said ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in a news release.
“We will conduct our own independent investigation, gather evidence, and prosecute the individuals who are most responsible.”
When the violence peaked during an armed conflict between the government and rebel forces in 2002 and 2003, civilians were killed and raped and homes and stores were looted, the ICC said, citing a preliminary analysis of alleged crimes.
The conflict was characterized by widespread use of rape, and the investigation marks the first time the Prosecutor is examining a situation where allegations of sexual crimes far outnumber alleged killings. “The information we have now suggests that the rape of civilians was committed in numbers that cannot be ignored under international law,” said Mr. Moreno-Ocampo.
At least 600 rape victims were identified in period of 5 months, said the Court, while cautioning that the real numbers are likely higher as sexual violence is customarily underreported.
Credible reports indicate that rape has been committed against civilians, including women, young girls and men. There were often aggravating aspects of cruelty such as rapes committed by multiple perpetrators, in front of third persons, with relatives sometimes forced to participate, the ICC said.
Many victims suffered social stigmatization and a number of them were infected with the HIV virus.
“These victims are calling for justice,” Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said.
The CAR's highest judicial body, the Cour de Cassation, said the national justice system was unable to carry out the complex proceedings necessary to investigate and prosecute the alleged crimes. Under the Rome Statute that created the ICC - and to which CAR is a party - the Court intervenes only when national judicial authorities are unable or unwilling to conduct genuine proceedings.
Even while investigating crimes allegedly committed in 2002 and 2003, the Prosecutor said he will continue to monitor the current situation in the CAR, citing what the Court termed “worrying reports of violence and crimes being committed in the northern areas of the country bordering Chad and Sudan.”
The impact of the conflict in the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur is widely feared to be spilling over and causing instability in neighbouring States.
The launch of this criminal investigation occurs in the context of insecurity and deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the country, in particular for displaced persons and children,” the ICC said in a news release, voicing support for UN efforts to achieve a comprehensive solution where lasting security can be established, humanitarian assistance delivered, and development and education promoted.
“In the interests of deterring future violence and promoting enduring peace in the region, we have a duty to show that massive crimes cannot be committed with impunity. We will do our part, working through our judicial mandate,” Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo said.
The CAR Government ratified the Rome Statute on 3 October 2001. The ICC has jurisdiction in CAR since the entry into force of the Rome Statute on 1st July 2002. The Government referred the situation to the Office of the Prosecutor in December, 2004.