The Special Criminal Court in the Central African Republic: An Update
For decades, political instability and human rights abuses have plagued the Central African Republic (CAR). The most recent conflict began in 2013, when an alliance of rebel militias known as “Séléka”, whose members are mostly Muslim, overthrew the government of François Bozizé and attacked his supporters. Subsequently, an alliance of mostly Christian armed groups named “Anti-balaka” formed and proceeded to attack Muslim communities across CAR. Both sides are reported to have committed atrocities against civilians, with the ICC launching an investigation into the violence in 2014. Recently, a peace agreement was signed between the government and several armed groups; however, militias still control much of the country, and serious human rights violations persist.
It is against this backdrop that, following national consultations, CAR’s parliament adopted Organic Law 15-003 (“Statute”) establishing the Special Criminal Court (SCC) in 2015. The SCC is tasked with investigating and adjudicating on serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law committed on CAR’s territory since 1 January 2003; the core crimes it focuses on are genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The SCC has a 5-year renewable mandate and has primacy over other courts in CAR. The Court’s Statute makes clear that it is a national criminal court; however, it is a “hybrid” tribunal, staffed by both national and international prosecutors and judges interpreting and applying both domestic and international law.
The SCC is composed of an Investigating Chamber, a Special Indictments Chamber, a Trial Chamber and an Appeal Chamber. Its Statute specifies that it is to be staffed by 21 sitting judges, of which 11 are national and 10 are international appointments. Whilst the SCC has made some progress with judicial appointments, much more remains to be achieved. To begin with, the Investigating Chamber, which should consist of six judges, currently consists of only four. Furthermore, the Special Indictments Chamber, which should be composed of three judges (one national and two international), is at present staffed by just two judges as a result of difficulties in recruiting a second international judge. The Court also has an insufficient number of international judges in both its Trial and Appeal Chambers, which together should be composed of 12 judges (eight national and four international). A recent SCC newsletter states that the Court has accelerated its recruitment process in response to this deficit and will attempt to fill a number of these posts this year.
Arrests and Investigations
Although the SCC was established in 2015, it was only able to officially begin its work in 2018 following the legislative adoption of its Rules of Procedure and Evidence. According to the most recently available information, the Court currently has 15 cases under preliminary examination, eight cases under investigation and eight cases in which the investigations have been closed. The SCC recently announced that it will be investigating the cases of nine combatants who were arrested on 19 May following attacks in the South-East of CAR. These individuals are believed to belong to the rebel group Union for Peace in CAR (UPC), which was created by ex-Séléka members in 2014. The Court will add these cases to a list of nine other individuals, who were arrested and handed over to it by the forces of MINUSCA on 21 May following attacks in the North-East of CAR.
The SCC is largely financed by international donors in consultation with CAR’s Government. Whilst this arrangement helps to alleviate some of the financial burden of its operations on the Government, the entirely voluntary nature of the contributions has meant that the Court has struggled to secure a consistent and adequate stream of funding for its operations. Since the commencement of its work in 2018, the Court has experienced annual funding shortages, and it is unclear how it plans to ensure that its financial needs of an estimated $12.4 million dollars a year will be met in future. A positive development is that some states have seconded magistrates to the Court with their salaries paid by their home countries. This has assisted with the Court’s shortfall of finances, however more direct financial contributions are needed.
The SCC was established with the aim of ending the cycle of violence and impunity within CAR. Whilst it is clear that some progress has been made, more remains to be accomplished, including significantly increasing its number of judges, which will allow it to advance through its growing caseload more expeditiously. Adequate finances remain a persistent problem for the Court, and international donors should commit to both regularising and increasing the amount of funding provided in order to ensure that it can continue to operate going forwards.