The head of a United Nations inquiry said on Monday it was seeking to establish who should face prosecution for killings and other crimes in Central African Republic to halt bloodshed that has raised fears of genocide.
Thousands have been killed since the Seleka, a coalition of mostly Muslim northern rebels, seized power a year ago and launched a campaign of looting, torture and killing in the majority Christian country, triggering Christian reprisals. The UN estimates some 650,000 have been displaced by religious violence, while nearly 300,000 have fled to neighbouring states.
“We want to present to the Security Council a complete file so that the appropriate action can be taken,” Bernard Acho Muna, who chairs a commission of inquiry set up by the UN Security Council in December, told a news briefing.
Muna, a former judge in Cameroon, said that a team of UN investigators would arrive in Bangui on Tuesday to begin interviewing Christian and Muslim victims of attacks, senior political and military officials and activist groups. They would draw up a confidential list of suspects for eventual prosecution, to be submitted to world powers later this year, and would also be in touch with a preliminary inquiry by the International Criminal Court (ICC), he said.
“Our role is definitely in going towards the establishment of law, the bringing of people who have committed offences to book,” Muna said. He hoped his investigation would signal to people making what he called “hate propaganda” that they should not embark on greater bloodshed.
The commission, which includes former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda and Fatimata M’Baye, a lawyer from Mauritania, will spend two weeks in Central African Republic and also look into Chad’s role in the violence, he said.
Since the resignation of Seleka leader Michel Djotodia as interim president in January under intense international pressure, Christian “anti-Balaka” militias have stepped up reprisals against Muslims. Fewer than one thousand remain of more than one hundred thousand Muslims who once lived in the capital, after a campaign of violence by Christian militias, UN aid chief Valerie Amos said on Friday.
The Security Council last week discussed a proposal for a nearly 12,000-strong peacekeeping force but reached no decision. France has deployed 2,000 troops to support a 6,000-strong African Union peacekeeping mission in the country of 4.5 million people but they have failed to halt the violence.
The move comes only weeks after the International Criminal Court said it was opening a preliminary examination into violence in CAR to determine whether atrocities committed there constitute possible war crimes. Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, said her office had reviewed many reports of “extreme brutality” and that allegations of crimes committed “possibly fall within the ambit of the jurisdiction of the ICC”. “The allegations include hundreds of killings, acts of rape and sexual slavery, destruction of property, pillaging, torture, forced displacement and recruitment and use of children in hostilities,” Bensouda said in a statement.