UN commission urges international court to prosecute Central African Republic perpetrators

Members of the U.N. commission that accused both sides in the conflict in Central African Republic of crimes against humanity urged the United Nations on Wednesday to establish an international court to prosecute perpetrators.

Law professor Philip Alston, a commission member, warned against a proposal being discussed by the U.N. to establish a special criminal court in the country. He said Central African Republic doesn't have judges with the independence and the ability to hold accountable the major political players who need to be prosecuted.

If the U.N. and Central African Republic go ahead with a national court, Alston said, the president and a majority of the judges must be from the international community and it must be well-funded.

Central African Republic, known as CAR, has been rocked by sectarian violence over the past year that has killed at least 5,000 people. U.N. peacekeepers are trying to stabilize the country, and both the Christian militia and Muslim rebels have agreed to put down their arms, but splinter groups of fighters have continued to clash.

In its report earlier this month, the three-member commission of inquiry accused Muslims and Christians of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The commission said it found evidence of ethnic cleaning of Muslims but couldn't prove that genocide has occurred. Thousands of Muslims have fled CAR.

The International Criminal Court opened a second investigation in September into atrocities in CAR including murder, rape and persecution during ruthless sectarian fighting since 2012. In the first, a former Congo vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba, was tried on charges of commanding rebels who committed murder, rape and pillaging in the country in 2002-2003. He is awaiting verdicts.

Fatoumata Mbaye, another commissioner, said the members support the ICC, but it can only prosecute a few top leaders and there is a need for justice on a much larger scale.

"We listed all the perpetrators that we are sure ... are implicated in the ongoing conflict in the CAR and this list will be handed over" to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, she said.

Alston said politicians and others in CAR assume there will be no consequences for whatever acts they commit "because there have not been any prosecutions in the past, no matter how serious the violations."

Mbaye said a tribunal "will be a strong signal" that the international community is paying attention to what's happening in CAR.

Alston and Mbaye met informally on Tuesday with members of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the recommendation for a special tribunal. Alston said all members favor accountability and ending impunity — but no country has yet pledged money and these courts are expensive.

Unless a serious tribunal is set up, Alston said, no country should fund it because it would not be able to produce justice.

He said the proposal that comes out of negotiations must be a court that is truly independent, with a majority of international members and provisions for sufficient funding to operate effectively.

"If that's done," Alston said, "then the funding should be much more available because it's an attractive proposition."