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Christian church in the Central African Republic
A Christian church in the Central African Republic. Photo by Croberto68 | Wikimedia Commons

Central African Republic tries to curb religious war crimes

Prosecutor appointed after a Christian neighborhood was attacked.

Christians and rights groups have said Central African Republic’s appointment of a prosecutor to bring war criminals to justice will help restore peace in the country. Christians and other civilians have died and fled their homes in the ongoing clashes with Muslim rebel factions.

Central African Republic (CAR) fell into chaos in 2013 after the Muslim Seleka rebel group overthrew the Christian government. The predominantly Christian anti-Balaka (anti-machete) vigilante group stepped up to fight back against Seleka, and the violence plunged the country into a civil war. Several other militia groups have sprung up across the country now embroiled in a sectarian crisis.

The United Nations and International Criminal Court both reported all parties of the conflict committed crimes against humanity. CAR’s interim government created the court in 2015 to prosecute people found guilty of human rights violations dating back to 2003.

The government appointed Congolese national Toussaint Muntazini Mukimapa as the court’s chief prosecutor. Mukimapa served as the attorney general of the armed forces in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, chairman of the Interfaith Peace Platform, told World Watch Monitor the appointment of a prosecutor is a step in the right direction.

“We’ve always said that we cannot achieve peace without justice,” Guerekoyame-Gbangou said. “It is important to determine the responsibilities of each different actor before arriving at forgiveness and reconciliation.”

On Feb. 7, rebels from a local militia killed Pastor Jean-Paul Sankagui of the Eglise du Christ en Centrafrique and destroyed three churches in the country’s majority Muslim PK5 neighborhood. Christians in the region said the rebels attacked after the country’s army killed the group’s leader during an interrogation. Sankagui had worked to ensure peace between Christians and Muslims. More than a thousand people attended his funeral, including hundreds of Muslims and the country’s prime minister.

Earlier in December, a rebel group that split from Seleka killed 25 people in the town of Balaka after inviting them to a school for a meeting. Some witnesses recounted rebels from the same Union for Peace in the Central African Republic killed seven men as they retuned from a gold mine.

Lewis Mudge, an Africa researcher with Human Rights Watch, said the chief prosecutor’s appointment would help enforce consequences on the perpetrators and move the country toward peace.

“The court will help break the cycle of impunity that has left many armed groups free to kill at will,” Mudge said.

Allan Ngari, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, said the court could serve as crime deterrent. Ngari said the court is significant because it has wider jurisdiction than any international court could have.

“It would increase the number of trials for crimes that happened in the country,” he said.

— by Onize Ohikere

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