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Statement by the High Commissioner to an International seminar on the fight against impunity in Central African Republic

2 September 2015

Mr Minister,
Special Representative of the Secretary-General,

I am glad to be able to address this seminar on the fight against impunity in the Central African Republic, a country with deep and tragic knowledge of the importance of our topic.

How can we stop the paroxysms of violence that have shattered so many lives? How can we weave back together a sense of a joint destiny between communities, so that people can look in their neighbour’s eyes and see a human being – not an enemy? As far too many people know in this country, because they bear the repeated scars in their flesh, without reconciliation and justice, there is a strong risk that fighting will lash out again in the future.
Today, at this Seminar, and as always should be the case, the victims and survivors must be at the centre of our discussions. Placing their needs and interest at the forefront is key to a peaceful and prosperous future. My Office has worked in many countries that have recovered from conflict, institutional break-down, divided communities, poverty and destruction. Such experiences have taught us that there may be greater likelihood of reconciliation and a durable peace if all communities first recognize their own previous conduct towards other communities where it was discriminatory and destructive. They must also establish institutions that are trustworthy and that genuinely embody the idea that each individual is a rights holder.

This seminar will discuss a variety of possible approaches to combatting impunity, including judicial and non-judicial mechanisms. I welcome this diversity. Justice and reconciliation cannot be imported from outside. To adequately address the painful legacy of the past and build a shared vision of the future, it is important that this country’s process of healing be led above all by the voices of all the people of CAR, including those victims who have been forced to leave their homes. Furthermore, all processes, whether judicial or non-judicial, must operate in conformity with international legal standards regarding gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including sexual violence and violence against children.

Rebuilding national unity following conflict requires strong, brave political leadership. The Bangui Forum in May, and the Republican Pact which was adopted at the close of that forum, were very significant steps along the path to sustainable peace, justice and reconciliation. Above all I welcome the pledge in the Pact to strengthen the protection of human rights for all people in CAR without any discrimination, including in relation to religion, ethnicity or sex.

The Republican Pact emphasised the importance of holding to account the perpetrators of the terrible crimes committed recently in CAR, and stressed the need for all national stakeholders to collaborate with and support the work of national courts and tribunals, the Special Criminal Court and the International Criminal Court .

Let me here commend the important decisions taken by the Transitional authorities to first request the ICC to open an investigation into the alleged crimes committed since 2012 and their commitment to cooperate with the ICC. I would also welcome the recent adoption of the law establishing a Special Criminal Court to investigate serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law since 2003 with the participation of international magistrates. I hope that this Court will become fully operational very soon. I encourage all stakeholders, national and international to support all efforts to strengthen the functioning of all judicial institutions in CAR.
The commitment to adopt a Constitutional ban on amnesties for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide should also be particularly commended. No one should be immune from investigation and prosecution for these crimes, irrespective of their functions.

This includes international actors. No-one is above the law. Although this is not the topic of our discussions today, I want to emphasize that the UN insists that international or UN troops who have allegedly committed abuses while carrying out their duties be promptly investigated and held to account. Like the Secretary-General, I have been appalled by allegations that individual peacekeepers have, in some cases, become predators. This is absolutely unacceptable. Everything should be done to protect the people of CAR and shield them from harm.

Violations occur in secrecy and darkness. Clarity is the first step to re-establishing justice and rights. The Republican Pact includes an important commitment to set up transitional justice processes such as a truth, reparations and reconciliation commission, and I believe such truth-telling is vital. Survivors must be given a protected space of respect in which to tell their stories – a space that fully recognizes the worth and dignity of people who have been victimized by abuse. Examining the painful past, acknowledging it and understanding it are the best ways to heal wounds. They are also the best way to create confidence that such wounds will not be inflicted again.

In setting up transitional justice programmes, it is crucial that comprehensive process of national consultations take place involving in particular victims and survivors from all communities, across the entire country. This will ensure a strong sense of national ownership. Particular attention must be given to the voices of women and to their rights. A large number people have been displaced and they must also be heard. Given the many children in CAR who have been directly targeted, who have been deprived of fundamental services, or who have been forced to participate in or witness atrocities, transitional justice systems also need to place children’s concerns at the top of their agendas.

But although truth-telling and consultations are essential, alone they are not enough. There must also be judicial accountability, so that individual perpetrators of atrocities are investigated and held responsible. This individual accountability is an important factor in eroding the dangerous perception that a whole community is collectively responsible for the violence that has taken place. If prosecutions are impossible – because judges and prosecutors are subject to undue influence, or unable to protect witnesses and victims – this profoundly damages hope for reconciliation throughout the country. Peace and justice are mutually reinforcing imperatives. Lack of accountability will generate feelings of cynicism and distrust towards the judicial and political systems and breed the idea that people need to arm to prevent atrocities from happening again.

To build a shared future out of a divided past and address the broken relationships between communities, this country needs to address many structural imbalances. Concrete recommendations have been discussed and detailed in the Republican Pact. But ensuring justice for the wrongs done to the victims will be a gigantic step towards ensuring that the people of the Central African Republic can live together in honour, dignity and equality. It is essential that the various processes be part of a comprehensive approach ensuring coordination and synergies, so as to strengthen the entire rule of law architecture. The reestablishment of an effective institutional and governmental system, including in particular an independent and impartial national judicial system that functions with integrity and is based on the rule of law and the protection of human rights is essential to the long-term stability of the CAR.