(Bangui, Paris, New York, Nairobi) – The Central African Republic’s transitional parliament should adopt a draft law establishing a Special Criminal Court, 19 Central African and International groups said today. Such a court would speed up justice for victims of atrocities in the country.

The country’s National Transition Council is set to discuss a draft law in the next few days that was prepared by the government and negotiated with the United Nations. The law calls for establishing a Special Criminal Court – a mixed jurisdiction consisting of Central African judges and prosecutors and an international contingent of judges and prosecutors – with a mandate to investigate and prosecute the most serious crimes in the Central African Republic since January 1, 2012, when the country’s current armed conflict began.

“The National Transition Council’s adoption of the draft law establishing a Special Criminal Court would be a landmark step in the fight against impunity in the Central African Republic,” the organizations said. “Impunity has contributed to the conflicts that ravage the country for the last 20 years.”

The proposed special jurisdiction would consist of 27 judges, 14 national and 13 international, integrated into the Central African Republic’s judicial system for a renewable period of five years. The Council of Ministers adopted the draft law on February 5, 2015, following preliminary work by a drafting committee with national and international members and completed by the justice minister in consultation with the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic, known as MINUSCA.

The draft law foresees the presence of international judges and experts to bring the necessary expertise to a complex legal field and to assist national judges in difficult and dangerous investigations. A Central African judge would preside over the court, and the special prosecutor would be an international prosecutor. All of the court’s chambers would also include international members, in some cases in the majority and in others in the minority.

The organizations said that, “The proposed draft law on the Special Criminal Court constitutes a balanced and innovative initiative to support the Central African judicial system, which is ravaged by the conflict triggered in 2012 by the armed groups in the northern part of the country. The Special Criminal Court will strengthen the national judiciary’s capacity to investigate and prosecute those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in efficient, independent and fair trials.”

The draft law on the Special Criminal Court follows the creation, in April 2014, of a Special Investigation Cell mandated to investigate serious human rights violations. In August, the United Nations and the Central African transition authorities concluded a Memorandum of Understanding on the major principles for establishing a Special Criminal Court that would integrate the Special Cell and be responsible for prosecuting those allegedly responsible for these crimes.

The court’s maximum sentence would be life in prison, in compliance with the provisions of the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), to which the Central African Republic acceded in 2002. It would not allow the death penalty, which the country has not applied since 1981.

The Special Criminal Court would complement the work of the ICC. The Central African authorities referred the situation to the ICC on May 30, 2014 and, on September 24, 2014, the ICC prosecutor announced the opening of an investigation in the Central African Republic on crimes under its jurisdiction since September 1, 2012. As the ICC gives priority to prosecuting those bearing the most responsibility for serious international crimes, the Special Criminal Court would be responsible for investigating and prosecuting dozens of other people for serious human rights violations since 2012.

“International organizations and other partner countries of the Central African Republic should ensure that the future Special Criminal Court benefits from the support and necessary funding to allow it to operate efficiently, and to ensure the security of its staff, victims and witnesses, particularly during investigations,” the groups said.

The signatory organizations detailed 10 arguments in favor of establishing the Special criminal court in a short advocacy document that will be distributed to members of the National transitional council.

The groups are:

Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture et la Peine de Mort (ACAT/RCA)

Association des Femmes Juristes de Centrafrique (AFJC)

Avocats Sans Frontières Centrafrique (ASF/RCA)

Bureau Information des Droits de l’Homme (BIDH)

Civisme et Démocratie (CIDEM)

Commission Episcopale Justice et Paix (CEJP)

Enfants Sans Frontières (ESF)

Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'Homme (FIDH)

Femme Action et Développement en Centrafrique (FADEC

Human Rights Watch

Initiative pour le Développement de Centrafrique (IDC)

Lead Centrafrique (Lead)

Ligue Centrafricaine des Droits de l’Homme (LCDH)

Mouvement des Droits de l’Homme et Action Humanitaire (MDDH)

Observatoire Centrafricain des Droits de l’Homme (OCDH)

Observatoire pour la Promotion de l’Etat de Droit (OPED)

Observatoire Centrafricain pour les Elections et la Démocratie (OCED)

Réseau centrafricain des organisations pour la promotion et la défense des droits de l'Homme (RONGDH)

Réseau national de la Jeunesse pour les Droits de l’Homme (RNJDH)