In Brazzaville, the Republic of Congo, last week, the lesson for those accused of atrocities seems to be: rather than face criminal investigation, you can be treated as a VIP. That, at least, is what happened to Abdoulaye Miskine, also known as Martin Koumtamadji, a mercenary leader accused of involvement with many crimes during the past decade.
The allegations concerning Miskine involve some of the worst crimes among all the horror in the Central African Republic, over the last ten years. In 2003, according to an in-depth investigation by the respected human rights group FIDH, the mostly Chadian mercenaries he commanded committed mass murder, rape and looting in the capital Bangui, together with the troops of the Congolese warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba, in a futile effort to prop up the regime of President Ange-Félix Patassé, who was later overthrown by his army chief-of-staff, Francois Bozizé. But the atrocities committed during the 2003 battles in Bangui were so serious that the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court launched an investigation, resulting in the arrest of Bemba, who has been charged with three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging) and two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape).
Accusations of atrocities against forces commanded by Miskine have continued in recent years. Since 2006, he has commanded a rebel group, the Democratic Front for the Central African People (Le Front démocratique du peuple centrafricain, FDPC). His forces fought alongside the Seleka rebels who overthrew President Bozizé in 2013, leading to horrific bloodshed and terror in the country’s capital and in other parts of the country. The FDPC left the Seleka coalition in April 2013 over “differences of opinion,” but the group continued to plague villages on the CAR-Cameroon border with armed raids. Miskine was one of five individuals placed on a US sanctions list last year, accused of threatening the peace, security, and stability of the Central African Republic.
In September 2013, the Cameroonian authorities detained Miskine, suspecting he and his rebels, the Democratic Front for the Central African People, who operated on both sides of the CAR-Cameroonian border, might be planning cross border raids. Although they had “differences in point of view” with Miskine, the Seleka rebels protested his arrest, still considering him a brother in arms. The Cameroonian authorities though did not pursue any criminal investigation concerning him.
On the first anniversary of his detention, Miskine’s rebels responded to the continued detention of their leader by stepping up their brutality, raiding villages in both CAR and Cameroon, and seizing dozens of hostages. By last week, they were holding at least 26 hostages, including a Polish priest, Mateusz Dziedzic, seized from his Catholic Mission in the Central African Republic, on October 12.
On November 26, the rebels agreed to release the Polish priest and 15 of the hostages who were Cameroonian nationals (the remaining ten hostages from the Central African Republic were handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross on November 29). A day later, on the 27th, the Cameroonian authorities released Miskine. They claimed the hostages had been freed in an “army operation” rather than through a prisoner swap, although few believe this was the case.
Whatever the complexities of the hostage release deal, what followed is unacceptable, given that Miskine remains a man with multiple serious allegations against him.
On his release, Miskine was escorted to the private plane of the President of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, the chief mediator of the crisis in the Central African Republic, and flown to Brazzaville accompanied by a senior presidential aide, and ironically by the Polish priest who had been held hostage. Upon arrival, Miskine was greeted by the Congolese Minister of Interior, Zéphirin Mboulou, and by evening found himself comfortably seated at the Presidential palace across from President Sassou-Nguesso.
In a country which has seen such horrific violence and absolute impunity for the crimes committed, treating as a VIP a commander accused of grave crimes sends the wrong message, particularly when those crimes go back a decade and after his fighters terrorized civilians and took hostages. It’s an announcement to everyone that impunity continues and that brutal warlords will continue to dominate the country.
Those interested in justice in the Central African Republic should do everything in their power to denounce Miskine’s apparently protected VIP status and bring him to justice. As chief mediator in the crisis, the Republic of Congo should push for that accountability and seek to minimize the role of abusive warlords in the peace process, not treat them as VIPs. Miskine’s place is in the dock answering for his crimes, not being lauded in the presidential palace in Brazzaville.