CAR war crimes trial adjourned after lawyer no-show

The inaugural trial of a court established to prosecute war crimes in Central African Republic’s (CAR) drawn-out conflict was postponed on its first day on Tuesday when lawyers for defendants boycotted proceedings.

The trial was related to the massacre of 46 civilians in the northern villages of Koundjili and Lemouna in May 2019, killings prosecutors say were carried out by the 3R rebel group. Three members of the group have been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The defendants’ lawyers failed to show on Tuesday, the exact reason for which was unclear. Joseph Bindoumi, president of the Central African League for Human Rights, told Reuters it was over a dispute about the treatment of the defenders.

The trial will resume on April 25.

The case was being heard in the Special Criminal Court which was set up in 2015 to try crimes committed in wartime. It was seen as a milestone for Central African Republic where a decade-long conflict between government forces and rebels has forced more than one million people to flee.

Mass atrocities have led to interventions from United Nations peacekeepers and troops from Russia, France and Rwanda. But rights groups said crimes against civilians were common, often undocumented, and carried out with impunity.

The first trial signalled”a better tomorrow for the victims” who can finally see the accused tried, the court’s spokesman, Gervais Opportun Bodagay, told Reuters.

Separately, at least three Central African Republic militia leaders were on trial at the International Criminal Court at The Hague for crimes allegedly committed in the country.

Central African Republic, rich in gold and diamonds, has been rocked by violence since 2013 when mainly Muslim Selaka rebels ousted the then President, Francois Bozize, prompting reprisals from mostly Christian militias.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday said the former Central African Republic’s militia leader, Maxime Jeoffroy Eli Mokom Gawaka, had been surrendered to the court by the authorities of Chad for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Mokom, a national coordinator of the so-called anti-balaka militias, was also accused of crimes against the Muslim civilian population in the Central African Republic (CAR), including murder, torture, extermination and the use of child soldiers. -Reuters

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