Mayo 24, 2007

CAR: Hague Court Inquiry Focuses on Rapes

NY Times:

May 23, 2007

Hague Court Inquiry Focuses on Rapes

DAKAR, Senegal, May 22 - The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague said Tuesday that he would investigate human rights violations committed during a brutal crackdown after a coup attempt in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.

The investigation by the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, will focus on at least 600 rapes, along with killings, beatings and other abuses reported during a five-month period after an unsuccessful revolt against the government of then-president Ange-Félix Patassé. The coup attempt was led by François Boizize, a general who ultimately seized power in 2003 and remains president.

The investigation is unique in that it focuses primarily on rape rather than on killings. Sexual violence has been a prominent feature of many conflicts in Africa in the past 15 years, and countless thousands of women have been raped in conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo, Sudan, Rwanda and Uganda, among other countries, but prosecutions for such crimes, except in Rwanda, have been rare.

"Rape is the most notorious issue here," said Mr. Moreno-Ocampo in a telephone interview. "There are killings, but there are four times more rapes than killings. We are talking about mass rapes, gang rapes, hundreds of cases that took place within a few days."

The investigation of abuses in the Central African Republic casts a spotlight on one of the least known parts of Africa, a landlocked country with a long history of coups and civil conflict, misrule and government brutality against citizens. Its porous borders and vast, lawless territory have made it a favored staging ground for rebellions from neighboring countries, including Chad, Congo and Sudan. As a result of these and homegrown conflicts, the country is flooded with weapons.

Human rights organizations in the Central African Republic and the government of Mr. Boizize have long said that Mr. Patassé's troops, aided by militias from neighboring Congo loyal to the warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba , terrorized civilians in areas around the capital, Bangui, in retribution for the coup attempt.

In late 2004, the Supreme Court of the Central African Republic referred the case to the International Criminal Court because it said it did not have the means to prosecute those responsible for the attacks on civilians.

Edith Douzima, a lawyer and human rights advocate in Bangui, praised the announcement, saying that rape had been used for too long "as a weapon of war wielded with impunity." But she also said the court had taken too long to begin its investigation.

"We have been waiting a long time for this day," Ms. Douzima said. "Too long."

Some human rights advocates had been critical of the delay - about two and a half years - before the prosecutor announced his decision.

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said that his office had to make sure there were no other overlapping investigations by local courts, and that his own analysts had to assess the credibility of the crime reports reaching his office.

He said initial investigations indicated that the mass rape was the result of an organized campaign.

"There were several months of crimes, killings, lootings, but there was a peak of rapes in a few days," he said. "This will be our biggest challenge, to prove that someone was authorizing them or giving instructions."

The case was complex, he said, because his office would "not prosecute the rapists themselves," but the person or people issuing the orders or organizing the campaign. The International Criminal Court seeks to prosecute the leaders most responsible for grave human rights violations when national courts are unwilling or unable to do so at home.

United Nations workers in the area and investigators for human rights groups provided hundreds of statements, which were very valuable, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said. But his own team of investigators will now have to start an official inquiry into the crimes, including killings, lootings and the large-scale rape, which he expects will take 18 months.

Lydia Polgreen reported from Dakar, and Marlise Simons from Paris.

Posted by marga at Mayo 24, 2007 4:18 AM | TrackBack
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