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Congolese Special Prosecutor Toussaint Muntazini (R) and the five other judges of the Special Criminal Court (SCC)—which is to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the Central African Republic since 2003—sit at the National Assembly in Bangui, having been sworn in on June 30, 2017.  © 2017 Saber Jendoubi/AFP/Getty Images

(Bangui) – The Central African Republic’s Parliament should swiftly adopt the rules of procedure and evidence for the country’s Special Criminal Court, 40 Central African organizations, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and Human Rights Watch said in a letter to members of parliament released today. The court cannot proceed with investigations and trials until the rules of procedure and evidence are in place to govern the court’s operations.

The Special Criminal Court is a new court based in the Central African Republic’s domestic justice system that operates with international participation and support. The court has a mandate to try war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic since 2003. It was established by law in 2015, but the appointment of the special prosecutor, judges, and a chief register began in 2017.

“The Special Criminal Court offers a landmark opportunity to break the cycles of impunity that drive violence in the Central African Republic,” said Maître Mathias Barthélémy Morouba, president of the Central African Human Rights Observatory. “The recent violence in Bangui shows that, five years into this conflict, armed groups still feel they can kill and terrorize civilians without consequence.”

The organizations are holding a news conference on May 24, 2018, in Bangui, the capital, on the need to adopt the rules of procedure and evidence without delay and distributed their letter seeking their adoption to all members of parliament. The rules were sent to parliament on May 15 amid the worst fighting in the capital since 2015.

The rules include key provisions for ensuring respect for the rights of the accused, protection of witnesses, engagement by victims, and the potential for reparations. The rules as presented should be adopted swiftly to enable the court to advance its core operations, the groups said.

Many of the organizations participated in consultations on a draft of the rules, during a workshop in Bangui in October 2017. During the workshop, lawyers, judges, and human rights defenders exchanged views on the text. The draft rules were subsequently revised based on those discussions and other input.

The work of the new court complements two investigations opened by the International Criminal Court into crimes committed in the Central African Republic, as well as investigations by the country’s regular national justice system.

“We have already waited too long to see justice for atrocity crimes,” said Monsieur Hervé Séverin Lidamon, president of the Victims’ Association for the 2012-2014 Events. “Parliament is in a position to send a strong message to current and would-be perpetrators: prepare to be held accountable for your actions.”

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