The International Criminal Court (ICC) has said two alleged leaders of a predominantly Christian militia accused of atrocities against Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR) must face trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona and Alfred Yekatom are accused of involvement in the crimes in their roles as senior leaders in the anti-Balaka militia as the country descended into war in 2013 to 2014. They have not entered pleas.
Following a hearing in September to decide whether there was enough evidence against the pair, judges made a “unanimous decision partially confirming the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity … and committed them to trial”.
Judges said on Wednesday there were “substantial grounds” to accuse them of crimes including directing attacks against civilians, murder, rape, forcible displacement, pillaging, cruel treatment, torture and persecution.
The court “declined to confirm the remaining charges that were not supported by the evidence presented by the prosecutor”.
No trial date was immediately set. Defence lawyers for both men can seek authorisation from the court to appeal against the decision sending them for trial.
At the hearing in September, prosecutors said the crimes followed atrocities by Muslim forces known as the Seleka as they seized power in the CAR in 2013, forcing President Francois Bozize to flee into exile. The violence left thousands dead and displaced hundreds of thousands more. Mosques, shops and homes were looted and destroyed.
Alfred Yekatom during an ICC court appearance in November last year [File: Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters]
Football chief, ‘Rambo’
Ngaissona, a key supporter of Bozize, was arrested in France in December 2018 and then extradited to the Hague on an ICC warrant. At the time, he was head of the CAR football association and board member of the Confederation of African Football.
World governing body FIFA banned him from football for six years in November after finding him guilty of charges including “discrimination and of failing to protect, respect or safeguard integrity and human dignity” related to the conflict in the CAR.
Yekatom, meanwhile, was extradited to The Hague in late 2018.
Styling himself as Commander Rambo, after the movie character played by Sylvester Stallone, Yekatom led a force of thousands of people including child soldiers, the prosecutor said in September.
Thousands of United Nations peacekeepers remain in the CAR despite more than a dozen militias signing up to an eighth attempted peace agreement with the government early this year.
Fighting has forced nearly a quarter of the country’s 4.5 million people to flee their homes since 2003 when Bozize seized power in a coup.