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Rights Committee : entrenched impunity and "infernal cycle of violence" at the heart of the dialogue with the Central African Republic

Human Rights Committee
CCPR/20/4

5 March 2020

Entry into the function of the Special Criminal Court is an important step in combating impunity, Experts say

The Human Rights Committee today concluded its consideration of the third periodic report of the Central African Republic on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, during which accountability for human rights violations and acts of violence against civilians took central stage.

Committee Experts recognized the significant security and other challenges facing the country and welcomed the signing of the Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation on 6 February 2019 between the Government and 14 armed groups.

However, although the peace agreement aimed to end the hostilities, acts of violence against civilians and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law continued.  The “entrenched impunity” led to an “infernal cycle of violence”, they said and there was “disguised amnesty” against the perpetrators of violence - following the signing of the peace accord several rebel commanders had been appointed to high government posts.

In this context, the entry into function of the Special Criminal Court was an important step in combating impunity, Experts said and stressed the importance of ensuring that all parts of the system – national courts, International Criminal Court and the Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission - interacted effectively to address and prevent impunity.

Experts also discussed issues such as torture, conditions of detention and religious freedom, among others.

Léopold Ismael Samba, Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, recalled that an armed rebellion, a military coup d’état and a humanitarian catastrophe in March 2013 had unleashed a multidimensional crisis in which the Central African State had almost ceased to function.  Reiterating the commitment to combatting impunity and protecting human rights, Mr. Samba stressed that bringing justice for serious crimes was a sine qua non condition to obtaining a lasting peace and reconciliation.

The Special Criminal Court with hybrid jurisdiction to prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations that had taken place since 2003 had held its inaugural session in October 2019.  In addition, the country was restoring its jurisdiction and redeploying judges and magistrates despite the delicate security context.  On 27 February 2020, the National Assembly had adopted the bill establishing the Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission.

As for the “disguised amnesty”, the delegation highlighted that the Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation was clear on the issue and did not grant amnesty.  The Special Criminal Court, which was fully functional, would continue its independent investigations and “when the time comes, everyone will be held accountable”.  The Court’s budget was provided for by international partners, but not all the pledges had been met, which was becoming a problem, noted the delegation.

It was very difficult to intervene in areas controlled by armed groups and prevent acts of violence and human rights violations, a delegate said and stressed the importance of all parties to the peace accord upholding their part of the agreement.  And yet, while the State stood by its 21 commitments, the armed groups continued to engage in violent acts. 

To put an end to such acts and improve the situation in the Central African Republic, United Nations, European Union and the African Union could implement sanctions, while the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission should live fully by its obligations, the delegation said.

Mr. Samba said in his concluding remarks that the Central African Republic needed help to recover its capacities and hoped that the dialogue had identified what needed to be done to enable it to fully participate in the family of nations.

Ahmed Amin Fathalla, Committee Chairperson, in his conclusion recognized that, without security, some obligations under the Covenant could not be discharged.  Nevertheless, a functioning Government and Parliament were in place; they could take action and pass legislation in several areas, such as extending the window for legal abortion, bolstering the independence of the judiciary and strengthening the response to child soldiers.

The delegation of the Central African Republic consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice and the Permanent Mission of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations on the report of the Central African Republic will be issued at the end of the session on 27 March.  All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage

Summaries of the Committee’s public meetings in English and French will be available at the United Nations Office at Geneva News and Media page, while the webcast can be viewed at UN Web TV

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m.  today, 3 March, to review the fifth periodic report of Portugal (CCPR/C/PRT/5).

Report

The Committee has before it the third periodic report of the Central African Republic (CCPR/C/CAF/3).

Presentation of the Report

LÉOPOLD ISMAEL SAMBA, Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in the presentation of the report recalled that an armed rebellion, a military coup d’état and a humanitarian catastrophe in March 2013 had unleashed a multidimensional crisis in which the State had almost ceased to function.  Given its absence from the regions controlled by armed groups, it was impossible to ensure the respect, promotion and protection of human rights, the functioning of democratic institutions and the respect for the rule of law.  The repeated mass violations of human rights by armed groups against vulnerable segments of the population led to thousands of casualties, internally displaced people and refugees. 

Since the return of constitutional legality in 2016, the Government had committed to combatting impunity and protecting human rights, implementing disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation programme, and strengthening the security sector, democracy and the rule of law.  Bringing justice for serious crimes was a sine qua non condition to obtaining a lasting peace and reconciliation in the Central African Republic, stressed Mr. Samba.  It was important not only to bring justice to victims but to prevent future crimes.  Significant progress had been made in this regard, including the operationalization of the Special Criminal Court with hybrid jurisdiction to prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations that had taken place since 2003.  The inaugural session had been held in October 2019 and seven cases had been brought before it.

Secondly, the Central African Republic was working on restoring its jurisdiction.  Despite the delicate security context, the Justice Department in collaboration with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic was redeploying judges and other legal actors throughout the territory.  In 2017, the military justice code had been adopted to promote discipline in armed forces and guarantee the rights of victims.

As for transitional justice, Mr. Samba said that the 2015 public consultations had clearly shown the importance the people attached to the fight against impunity.  The 2015 National Forum in Bangui had requested the Government to set up a truth commission, which was seen as a pillar of justice, peace and reconciliation.  The setting up of the commission had started in March 2018 with the appointment of some members on a pilot basis, which had been followed by national consultations and the drafting of the bill establishing the Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission, which the National Assembly had adopted on 27 February 2020.  A human rights violations evidence checking and monitoring system had been set up to prevent further violations.

Human rights were at the heart of the new Constitution promulgated in 2016, while the political vision for the country was based on the culture of peace and human rights.  The national policy on human rights had been drafted, while the national human rights institution and the Committee on Fundamental Freedoms, set up in 2017, were now operational.  The public penitentiary system was being transformed into a demilitarized system under civilian control that respected human rights standards and supported the social reintegration of inmates.

The signing of the agreement in 2015 between the Government and armed groups on disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation represented an important step towards peace and stability, as it defined the criteria for the reintegration of armed groups into the national army.  To date, 14 armed groups that had officially signed up to the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation programme had reached an agreement with the Government.  The security sector reform strategy, based on an inclusive political process, aimed to render the territory secure and restore administration, protect the population and ensure the democratic governance of the security sector.  Mr. Samba stressed that the security reform was one of the key elements of the peace consolidation plan of the Central African Republic.

Following two years of the complex and intense discussions, a direct dialogue had taken place between the Government and 14 armed groups, leading to mutual comprises that had brought about a Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation, which had been signed on 6 February 2019. 

Having upheld almost all of the 21 commitments under the Accord, including the establishment of an inclusive government and the joint mixed special security forces, the Government believed it was time to apply sanctions for the violation of the agreement.  Progress made by the armed groups on their commitments remained limited, especially in relation to upholding the legitimacy of institutions and respecting the constitutional order and territorial integrity of the State.  Still, the implementation of the agreement had led to a small decrease in human rights violations and had facilitated the redeployment of public administration, armed forces and law enforcement officials in regions controlled by armed groups.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Noting the 14-years-delay in the submission of the report, Committee Experts urged the Central African Republic to respect the reporting deadline and consider using a simplified reporting procedure.

As for the constitutional framework for the implementation of the Covenant, Experts said that the 2016 Constitution exemplified the State’s commitment to its obligations under international instruments, which had primacy over national law and were directly applicable.  However, those provisions were de facto not implemented, as the Covenant had not been invoked in courts, the Experts said, urging the State party to provide training and awareness-raising and ensure the Covenant was implemented in law and in practice.

The Experts questioned the independence of the Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission which operated under the Ministry of Justice and whose members were appointed by decree.  It should have sufficient means to ensure it was independent and operational, in line with the Paris Principles.  The Commission was due to start its work within 90 days following the signing of the agreement - what progress was being made in this regard and in accelerating its collaboration with civil society?

Acts of violence and human rights violations continued despite the peace accord in which the armed groups had committed to ending the hostilities.  The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic had, for instance, reported the killing of 39 civilians and the displacement of 20,000 persons in May 2019.  What was being done to investigate those acts and prosecute the perpetrators?

Entrenched impunity led to an infernal cycle of violence, massive human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law.  It had created mistrust amongst the population with respect to the State.  The Experts pointed to “disguised amnesty” against the perpetrators of violence : while amnesty had not been declared, several rebel commanders had been appointed to high government posts following the signing of the peace accord. 

Experts said that the dialogue with the Central African Republic was a constructive way to discuss the human rights situation and the ways in which it could be improved.  They asked about the implementation and proper follow-up of the Committee decisions on communications, including in the Mamour v. Central African Republic case.

The launch of the Special Criminal Court, which had adopted a prosecutorial strategy that prioritized grave crimes, was an important step in combating impunity, Experts said.  They wondered to which degree it was operational and asked for data concerning judicial and staff appointments and resources at its disposal.  The law establishing the Court provided for witness protection scheme but the concrete mechanism was left to the judges. 

The Experts asked about the Court’s relations with the national courts, International Criminal Court and the Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission.  The national commission of inquiry had been set up in 2013 but it was not clear whether it was functional and how it related to other bodies in this field.  On paper, there was a good system in place, the Experts said and stressed the importance of ensuring that its different parts interacted effectively to address and prevent impunity.

Article 6 of the Constitution was very important as it prohibited discrimination on several but not all grounds, leaving the gaps between the grounds protected under the Covenant and those protected under the Constitution.  Such was the case of sexual orientation and gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination.  Would the Central African Republic enact further legislation to ensure a comprehensive anti-discrimination legal framework?

The Committee acknowledged positive developments in advancing gender equality, especially the gender equality law and the independent observatory for male-female equality, but noted that their implementation could be improved.  Some provisions of the labour code could lead to discrimination against women.  Gaps in the representation of women in public and political life remained, especially Muslim women.  The prosecutorial strategy of the Special Criminal Court contained gender dimension, Experts noted with satisfaction and asked how it would be implemented.  What structural obstacles, such as culture and tradition, limited greater political participation of women and how were they overcome?

The security situation presented significant obstacles in the provision of health and public health services throughout the territory, the Experts acknowledged and raised concern about the lack of health personnel and low rate of immunization, especially in the face of a public health emergency.  Infant and maternal mortality were very high, noted the Experts, asking about the access to abortion which was legal during a very narrow window of the first eight weeks.  The combination of a narrow window and criminal sanctions could lead women to terminate pregnancies through informal means, thus contributing to high maternal mortality rates. 

Polygamy remained a well-anchored social institution in the Central African Republic, especially in rural areas, which meant that significant awareness-raising efforts would be needed to stamp out this practice.  Would the future family code abolish polygamy and what was its status?  Female genital mutilation was prohibited under the Criminal Code, Experts noted and asked whether there had been any prosecutions.  What were the impacts of the 2006 law on the protection of violence against women and the 2015 rapid intervention and prevention unit for violence against women and children on the incidence of the crime of female genital mutilation?

The 2010 Criminal Code outlawed gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence.  It also enumerated rape and sexual violence as a war crime and a crime against humanity.  According to the December 2019 report by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, there had been 565 violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including 68 cases of sexual violence, 60 of which had led to judicial inquiries.

Article 17 of the Criminal Code provided for the death penalty, which was, however, not included in the 2017 Military Justice Code.  What was the deadline for the abolition of the death penalty, given the population’s seemingly widespread approval of capital punishment?

Bearing in mind very serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and serious attacks against the civilian population, what measures were being taken to protect civilians in conflict areas?

The definition of torture was enshrined in the rules of procedures of the Special Criminal Court, but not in the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedures Code.  Noting the allegations of torture in places of detention, they asked whether the definition of torture would be included in the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedures Code, whether torture would be established as an offence not subject to the statute of limitations and if the use of evidence obtained under torture would be prohibited.

Replies by the Delegation

In response to Experts’ questions, the delegation stressed that the country needed the support of the United Nations.  The Central African Republic, while not a failed state, faced a difficult situation.

Under the 2019 budget, the appropriate amount had been allocated to the Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission, thus filling the budgetary gaps it had had in the past and allowing the Commission to remunerate its members.  The Commission was present in seven regions across the country and was mostly composed of civil society representatives, such as lawyers and university professors.  The law that established the Commission defined its partnership with the Ministry of Justice, which did not supervise its work, but rather acted as the go-between the Government and the Commission. 

As for the “disguised forms of amnesty”, the delegation highlighted that the Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation, signed by the Government and 14 armed groups, was clear on that issue and did not grant amnesty.  The Special Criminal Court would continue its independent investigations without Government interference and “when the time comes, everyone will be held accountable”, said the delegate.
 
It was very difficult for the Government to intervene in areas controlled by armed groups and prevent acts of violence and human rights violations.  It was important that all parties upheld their part of the agreement; and yet, while the State stood by its 21 commitment, the armed groups continued to engage in violent acts.  To put an end to this, sanctions could be implemented by the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union.  If the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission lived fully by its obligations, it would contribute to improving the situation.  In any case, the judiciary was continuing its work, and in due time perpetrators would be brought to justice.

The Special Criminal Court was fully functional; all international judges had been appointed, although not all of them had started their mandate.  The Court’s budget was provided for by international partners, but not all the pledges had been met, which was becoming a problem for the Court.  The judges were fully independent and did not report to the Government; since it was not privy to its work, the delegation could not report on the state of play of its investigations.  The Special Criminal Court was subsidiary to the national courts; it only tried the cases transferred to it by national courts when they found they could not carry out a trial.

On the status of the Covenant in the domestic legal system, delegates assured that judges invoked the Covenant in their rulings.  The Government was in favour of comprehensive legislation on equality for all, that is non-discrimination.  Work towards this goal was ongoing.

Regarding the Mamour v. Central African Republic, delegates remarked that Mr. Mamour had not brought any complaints regarding damages or threats to his physical integrity in the national courts.  He currently occupied a high position in the President’s Office.  As the Government saw it, since there was no case brought before justice, there was no case to respond to.

While there was a desire in the country to abolish the death penalty, it was coming up against a number of obstacles.  Given everything the country had been through, people were not ready to consider that certain perpetrators of violence could be spared.  The Government had to lead the population, which was mostly illiterate, to accept the idea of abolishing the death penalty.  Laws reflected the population’s opinion; more awareness-raising was required.

The electoral code made it mandatory for political parties to comply with gender parity requirements.   This was remarkable, as even in developed countries, the 50 per cent female representation mark was rarely met.  While the society, overall, tended to be misogynistic, judges handed down the fair sentence on matters related to inheritance.

Delegates agreed that the eight-week delay imposed on women wishing to undergo abortions legally had to be reviewed as it could lead to an increased number of clandestine abortions and the related health issues.  Efforts would be made to amend the law.

Awareness-raising on female genital mutilation was ongoing and the Government was collaborating with a civil society organization representing female lawyers.  Judges were provided with training on gender-based violence by the school of magistrates.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, Experts turned to the conditions of detention and asked about the efforts to address overcrowding in the Bangui prison which housed inmates from other regions and measures taken to improve inmates’ nutrition and access to health care.  They were concerned about the lack of independent monitoring of places of detention, since there was no national preventive mechanism in the Central African Republic, while the human rights commission visited prisons infrequently. 

Another concern was related to the excessive duration of pre-trial detention for most detainees, while some individuals were allegedly detained without charges.

Experts took note of the ongoing deployment of the judges throughout the national territory and asked about steps taken to increase the number of mobile courts.  They also asked about the envisaged judicial reform, including its impact on the prosecutorial bodies and the judicial appointments.  What role did national judges play in the Special Criminal Court?

A young institution, the High Authority on Good Governance, had been tasked with combating corruption – what measures had been taken to ensure its proper functioning? 

The Committee acknowledged the efforts to support internally displaced persons and asked about steps taken to facilitate the voluntary return.  There were reports that refugees and asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad faced insecurity - what procedures were in place to determine refugee status?

Given that Government structures dealing with civil status were not fully operational, Experts expressed concerns that the lack of access to birth registrations might impede children’s access to citizenship.  Was there a national plan in place to deal with trafficking in persons and was the Government aware of allegations that State agents were involved in trafficking in persons at the borders?

The Committee acknowledged and commended the Government’s efforts to demobilize child soldiers and facilitate family reunification and its ratification of the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  However, the recruitment of child soldiers continued, both to fight and for purposes of sexual exploitation.  What could the Government do to address these difficult issues in those trying circumstances?

Indigenous peoples, including the Bayaka, reportedly had limited land rights and lacked the ability to influence decisions related to the exploitation of natural resources.  There were reports that some of them, including children, had been coerced into forced labour, for example, in agriculture.

Experts flagged the forced displacement of the Muslim population and the attacks against them.  What measures had been taken to guarantee in practice, not just at the constitutional level, the freedom of religion for everyone?  They also requested information on investigations into the killings of two Russian journalists and the death of a French reporter, as well as on the draft bill on human rights defenders.

Replies by the Delegation

Delegates said they had the obligation to say the truth and nothing but the truth; therefore, the delegation would provide additional responses in writing.

The Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation, or Khartoum Agreement, contained a catalogue of measures to address the root causes of conflict, including impunity and unequal distribution of wealth.  Full implementation of the Accord would allow the Government to regain authority over the entire territory and fully assume its sovereign responsibilities.  To achieve this transformation, the international community must play its part : guarantors and facilitators of the agreement must fulfil their role and ensure its rigorous implementation by all parties.

The Central African Republic was a young country which was facing formidable challenges and troubles.  It was not asking to be absolved but rather understood.  It would achieve the implementation of the Covenant at its own rhythm; the Committee could assist in this process.  

To protect minorities and combat incitement to hatred, the Government had taken several steps : Ministry of the Media had disseminated positive messages, which were also broadcast by regional branches of the Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission.  A central commission had been set up to develop a national plan to prevent discrimination.

Since the National Human Rights Commission was independent, the Ministry of Justice could not say why it did not carry out visits to prisons.  The delegation stressed that there were no restrictions or prohibitions on such visits.

Delegates said security was the Government’s priority.  On matters such as female genital mutilation, infant and maternal mortality rate, abortion and public health, there were principles and objectives to which the Government adhered, including those evoked by the Committee.  However, it was unable to tackle those issues like it would like to, due to the exceptional security circumstances.

On freedom of religion, delegates said the Central African Republic was over 50 per cent catholic and animist and Muslims were in the minority.  Prior to the 2015 events, everyone had lived in coexistence.  The war that had broken out was not a war of religion, religion was merely a pretext; the real cause was elsewhere.  It was not true that there two camps comprised of Christians on the one side and Muslims on the other; there were Christians amongst the Seleka, for instance.

Some indigenous peoples might not have access to public services because they lived in remote areas, but they did not face legal barriers.  Indigenous peoples, such as pygmies, were full-fledged Central Africans and there was no discrimination, delegates assured.

A review of the judiciary would deliver recommendations to be reflected in a draft law to bolster the independence of judiciary bodies.  The redeployment of judges was at an advanced stage, even though it was challenged by the action of armed groups.  The implementation of the peace agreement would allow the creation of a joint security unit that would assist in completing the judicial redeployment.  Mobile courts resumed their work where security allowed.

To address the issue of child soldiers, the Government had carried out a series of actions, in collaboration with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission.  There were plans to sign an agreement whereby they would cooperate to transfer children from conflict zones back to their families and communities, in collaboration with the United Nations’ Children Fund.  The Government observed a decrease in the number of children involved with armed groups. 

Investigations were ongoing regarding the assassination of two Russian journalists and the death of the French reporter; at the moment, the delegation was not in a position to provide additional information on this matter. 

Concluding Remarks

LÉOPOLD ISMAEL SAMBA, Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stressed in his concluding remarks that everything was specified in the Khartoum Agreement and that all its parties – the international community, the Government and the armed groups - must live up to their commitments.  The Central African Republic needed help to recover its capacities and he hoped that the dialogue had identified what needed to be done to enable it to fully participate in the family of nations.

AHMED AMIN FATHALLA, Committee Chairperson, in his concluding remarks thanked the delegation for their efforts and commitment to the Covenant.  The delegation was frank in admitting that it did not exercise full control over all of its territory and the Committee recognized that without security, some obligations under the Covenant could not be discharged.  Nevertheless, the Committee hoped that the Central African Republic could take action in several areas, including extending the window for legal abortion, strengthening the response to child soldiers and bolstering the independence of the judiciary.  Since the country had a functioning Government and Parliament, it could pass the necessary legislation.

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