- What is the Special Criminal Court?
- What is the first trial before the SCC about?
- When will the trial start and how long will it run?
- Why is the SCC important?
- When did the SCC become operational?
- How does the SCC relate to the International Criminal Court’s investigations and prosecutions for crimes committed in the Central African Republic? How does it relate to domestic prosecutions?
- How are investigations conducted?
- What other cases is the SCC investigating?
- How many suspects have been charged?
- What have been some of the problems faced by the SCC?
- How do defendants engage with the SCC?
- How do victims engage with the SCC?
- Will victims receive reparations?
- What role is the SCC playing in providing information to local communities affected by the crimes in the Central African Republic?
- How is the SCC funded?
The opening of the first trial at the Special Criminal Court (SCC) in the Central African Republic will take place on April 19, 2022. This is a landmark moment to advance justice for victims of serious crimes committed in the Central African Republic. The SCC is a new court based in Bangui, the nation’s capital, with a mix of national and international judges and staff. The court was established to investigate and prosecute serious international crimes committed since 2003.
Accountability is crucial to put an end to the cycles of violence fueled by impunity in the country, which continue to this day. The court may also serve as a potentially important model of a hybrid judicial mechanism for other countries seeking to pursue justice for international crimes, and its operations will shed light on the opportunities and challenges of doing so.
In 2015, the Central African Republic established a Special Criminal Court (SCC) in Bangui to try serious international crimes committed during conflicts in the country since 2003. The court’s mandate is to investigate and prosecute “grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed on the territory of the Central African Republic since January 1st, 2003, […] notably the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.” The court has a mandate of five years, which can be renewed only once, for a maximum of 10 years.
The court is integrated into the Central African Republic’s domestic judicial system, but staffed by both international and Central African judges, prosecutors, and administrators, and as such is a “hybrid” court. The SCC has three organs: the prosecutor’s office (parquet), the chambers, and the registry. It is supported by a special judicial police unit and group of legal representatives (Corps Spécial d’Avocats).
The court operates in partnership with the United Nations. Since 2015, the UN peacekeeping mission, known by its French acronym, MINUSCA, has had a mandate to support the operationalization of the court, and provide it with security. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) also supports the court as part of a “joint project” on the court with the peacekeeping mission and the Central African government.
The Central African government has an important role to play in providing political, technical, and financial support to this effort. It has long backed the court and the efforts to make it operational.
The case involves war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in May 2019 in Koundjili and Lemouna villages, in the northwestern part of the country in the province of Paoua, allegedly by members of the “3R” rebel group (“Retour, réclamation, rehabilitation”). Human Rights Watch documented the massacre of 46 civilians in these villages in May 2019. The incidents in these villages were the first major violation of a 2019 peace agreement between the government and rebels.
In 2019, the prosecutor announced that he had received a case related to these incidents from the Bangui public prosecutor’s office. In the days following the killings, the head of 3R, Sidiki Abass, handed over the three men now facing trial at the SCC to Central African authorities and the United Nations.
On December 17, 2021, the SCC’s appeals chamber with authority over pretrial matters (chambre d’accusation spéciale) held a public hearing in the case involving three defendants: Issa Sallet Adoum, Ousman Yaouba, and Tahir Mahamat.
The SCC president had publicly indicated that a first trial would take place in 2021, but given the confidential nature of investigations, details about the case were not revealed until December, when a public hearing before the pretrial chamber (chambre d’accusation) took place.
Following this hearing in which the defendants’ pretrial appeal was considered, the pretrial chamber denied the appeal and decided there were sufficient grounds to send the case to trial, but dismissed charges of rape against Yaouba and Mahamat. Rape charges related to the same incidents were upheld against Adoum, in addition to other alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In the absence of further pretrial appeals, on February 21, the trial chamber president issued an order assigning a trial chamber (chambre d’assise) to hear the case. On March 17, the trial chamber conducted a hearing a status conference behind closed doors, in which the chamber and the parties discussed issues relating to the trial, including the order of appearance of witnesses and experts, how long each will testify, and whether they will testify publicly or require measures of confidentiality (such as voice or visual distortion). The trial chamber held an additional status conference on 26 March and another status conference is scheduled to take place before the opening of the trial. This process should provide a sense of the anticipated length of the trial, although the rules provide for the possibility of a trial lasting up to six months. The trial chamber has set the opening of the trial for April 19.
The opening of the trial will include the reading of the charges, a summary of how the trial will proceed, and testimony by witnesses who will help establish the overall context in which the alleged crimes occurred. The opening will not include opening statements by each party, since this is not common practice in the Central African Republic. The trial chamber will then hear the accused and civil parties, followed by other witnesses who will testify about specific allegations. The court will later hold a hearing on the character of the accused, which will include testimony from family members. These hearings will be public, unless the protection of victims or witnesses requires otherwise.
The first trial will be a crucial test of the Special Criminal Court system, including the strength of the court’s administration, defense representation, and its outreach efforts to make the proceedings accessible to the local population. One of the members of the trial chamber, who is also the vice president of the court, had convened a working group of all organs to coordinate on logistical issues related to the first trial. Court officials have indicated that it plans to evaluate the conduct of this first trial to learn lessons that can be used to improve its practices for future trials.
In the Central African Republic, a lack of accountability has fueled cycles of violence. Justice for serious crimes has been a key demand from the population since the 2015 national consultations known as the “Bangui Forum.” By delivering justice at a national level and working in parallel to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has two ongoing investigations in the Central African Republic, the Special Criminal Court offers a chance to broaden the scope of those held to account for atrocity crimes and enhance the resonance of trials with victims and others most affected by the crimes. The SCC can also bolster domestic ownership and capacity in the delivery of justice for atrocity crimes.
The Central African Republic has a history of political instability and several conflicts, characterized by significant violations of human rights and serious international crimes. In October 2002, then-Army Chief of Staff François Bozizé led a coup against then-President Ange-Félix Patassé. To try to hold onto power, Patassé enlisted foreign militias and mercenaries, who committed widespread crimes against civilians. Patassé’s government was overthrown in March 2003. In the years that followed, Bozizé’s government fought several rebellions, leading to further abuses.
In late 2012, the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels began a rebellion that ousted Bozizé and seized power through a campaign of violence. In late 2013, militias known as anti-balaka began to organize counterattacks against the Seleka, frequently targeting Muslim civilians. Civilians were caught in the middle and Human Rights Watch documented war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Seleka and anti-balaka forces since 2013, including rape and sexual slavery.
African Union and French forces pushed the Seleka rebels out of Bangui in early 2014 and MINUSCA took over from an African Union peacekeeping mission in September 2014.
Violence and attacks against civilians have continued since then as the Seleka broke into factions which still control large swathes of the country up to today.
In the lead-up to and aftermath of recent presidential elections in December 2020, there was renewed violence in the Central African Republic. A new rebel coalition, the Coalition of Patriots for Change (Coalition des patriotes pour le changement, CPC), has carried out multiple attacks. A recent UN report has documented incidents of abuses by the CPC as well as Central African Armed Forces (FACA) and other security personnel, including Russian military instructors and private military contractors.
In August 2014, the transitional government signed a memorandum of understanding with MINUSCA that outlined a hybrid judicial accountability mechanism, which included the participation of international staff, but it was not until June 3, 2015 that then-interim President Catherine Samba-Panza promulgated the law creating the SCC.
After a period of some stagnation, the work to establish the court gained momentum during 2017, with the appointment of several key staff, including the chief international prosecutor and several international and national magistrates. Parliament adopted the court’s rules of procedure and evidence in May 2018.
The court became operational on October 22, 2018, and held its inaugural session. In December 2018, the SCC made public a prosecutorial strategy, and then developed a roadmap to carry out the strategy, after which investigations formally began.
In the first quarter of 2019, the Special Criminal Court moved into its permanent premises, although construction to renovate parts of the building continued. In November 2020, the court’s headquarters buildings were officially inaugurated.
The SCC has made important progress, even if it took longer than anticipated to get it up and running. This was due in part to steps taken to protect the court’s credibility, independence, and impartiality, and the complexity of staffing a hybrid court with limited resources and complex administrative arrangements.
6. How does the SCC relate to the International Criminal Court’s investigations and prosecutions for crimes committed in the Central African Republic? How does it relate to domestic prosecutions?
The ICC is a court of last resort focused primarily on the most serious crimes and the highest-level suspects. It steps in only when national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute. The ICC currently has two investigations open concerning crimes in the Central African Republic based on requests from the Central African authorities to help bring justice for serious crimes. The ICC’s first investigation relates to grave crimes committed in 2002 and 2003. That investigation has been basically dormant since its only case ended in acquittal on appeal, leaving the victims without access to redress for those crimes. The second investigation relates to crimes committed in the conflict since 2012.
By being based in the country, the SCC is expected to be able to bring cases involving a wider set of suspects and increase the accessibility of the justice process. The purpose of hybrid courts is in part to strengthen the national capacity to address egregious crimes. The SCC teams an international judge with knowledge of international criminal law with a national judge who serves as an anchor into the national system and can relate to both victims and suspects through cultural and linguistic connections. There can be challenges in such types of arrangements, including due to differences in culture, legal traditions, or terms of employment for the domestic and international staff. It is important to ensure opportunities for judges and other staff to share their knowledge and experience.
The law establishing the court foresees that if both courts work on the same case, priority will go to the ICC. This is a bit different from the usual practice between the ICC and national courts, in which national proceedings have priority. Because the ICC has limited capacity, it is especially important for it to pursue cases involving senior leadership to address expectations for justice and foster an environment to help courts deliver greater accountability. The ICC entered into a judicial cooperation protocol with the Central African Republic in October 2021. There should be further strategic coordination on how the ICC and SCC can share relevant information to reinforce their respective efforts.
There have also been trials for conflict-related crimes before ordinary courts of the Central African Republic since 2015, including at least two proceedings against former anti-balaka commanders. In February 2020, the Bangui Court of Appeal sentenced 28 anti-balaka fighters for the killing of 75 civilians and 10 UN peacekeepers around Bangassou in 2017. However, most other proceedings have been against low-ranking people or have concerned minor crimes. The SCC should think strategically on which cases to allocate to the ordinary domestic courts, and regularly coordinate with them to enhance the SCC’s impact on the domestic justice system.
Some observers have expressed concern that the SCC, instead of strengthening the national judicial system, could be pulling resources away from it. It is important for international and domestic actors involved in accountability efforts to make sure that the domestic system has adequate resources to continue to strengthen its capacity and infrastructure, while also recognizing that successful cases at the SCC can have a positive catalyzing effect on building respect for the rule of law in the country beyond the individual cases tried.
The SCC’s investigation process, which is consistent with the Central African Republic’s civil law legal system, provides for two possible phases of investigation before a case goes to trial. The first is conducted by the prosecutor’s office (parquet), to be completed within a six-month period, unless the judges approve an extension.
The second is by the two-judge panel (cabinet d’instruction) consisting of one national judge and one international judge, whose investigation can last up to two years. The investigating judges seek additional evidence and undertake their own investigation, and then decide whether the case should be brought to trial or dismissed. The investigating judges can also initiate their own investigations based on a complaint from an individual (a victim or family member, called a partie civile) rather than wait for cases to be referred by the prosecutor.
A team of 20 domestic judicial police officers conducts investigations, directed by the prosecutors and investigating judges. These officers do not necessarily have experience investigating the types of complex cases under the SCC’s mandate. The UN has facilitated specialized training and access to expert advice for the officers, which will be vital throughout their work to foster effective investigative practices. MINUSCA as well as two investigation specialists hired by the UN have been assisting the officers. They are also working with a rapid response unit within the police and gendarmerie to investigate sexual and gender-based violence (known as the UMIRR). Nevertheless, ongoing capacity-building will be crucial, including to ensure that the officers respect defendants’ rights in carrying out their duties.
In September 2021, the court brought crimes against humanity charges against Capt. Eugène Ngaïkosset, known within the country as “The Butcher of Paoua.” While the SCC did not specify the charges, Human Rights Watch has documented Ngaïkosset’s role in leading a presidential guard unit implicated in numerous crimes between 2005 and 2007, and he is alleged to have also committed crimes as an anti-balaka leader in Bangui in 2015.
In November, the SCC issued charges for and arrested a former armed group leader and current government minister, Hassan Bouba Ali, known as Hassan Bouba, for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bouba was regarded as having moved up to the number two position of his rebel group in 2015 (Unité pour la Paix en Centrafrique, UPC). He was appointed a special councilor to the president in 2017 and then minister of livestock and animal health in 2020.
Bouba was scheduled to appear before the SCC on November 26 for a custody hearing, but on that day, national gendarmes escorted him out of the facility where he was in detention and brought him home. While the Ministry of Justice suggested that Bouba was released because the detention order was “outdated,” it appears he was released before the order lapsed. As of mid-March 2022, Bouba had not been re-arrested.
The SCC characterized Bouba’s release as an “escape” and deplored this development as an obstacle to the proper administration of justice. Human Rights Watch and other international and domestic civil society groups, and theCentral African bar association have condemned this release as undermining the court’s independence and victims’ rights to justice. Bouba should be re-arrested without delay to face charges by the SCC.
In addition to the three suspects related to the Paoua case that is the subject of the court’s first trial, it also seems that the authorities had arrested and transferred 18 people to SCC custody in connection with incidents in 2020. In May 2020, the SCC indicated it had requested it be seized of the Ndélé case after MINUSCA had announced the arrest of nine militiamen there. The SCC also indicated that it was investigating crimes allegedly committed by nine rebels arrested in May 2020 following attacks in the Obo region.
As of August 2021, the SCC issued the following list of cases with their status. Human Rights Watch sought updated information from the SCC but had not yet received it by early April.
Cases addressed by the Prosecutor (Parquet Spécial):
- 237 individual complaints from victims;
- 11 cases under preliminary analysis;
- One case under preliminary investigation, which in the most recently available public information included allegations of sexual violence;
- 12 cases referred by the prosecutor to the investigating judges;
- Seven cases transferred to the domestic judicial system following a preliminary investigation.
Cases before the investigating judges (Cabinet d’Instruction) (based on information made public in December 2020):
- Twenty-two complaints were received from victims who wished to be part of the proceedings;
- Nine cases were under investigation by the investigating judges (four transferred from domestic courts and five referred by the prosecutor), including two involving incidents of sexual violence.
It is unclear how many of the special court’s cases will focus on recent crimes versus crimes dating from earlier periods of the conflicts. It can be easier to obtain evidence from recent and well-documented abuses, identify witnesses, and secure custody of suspects captured during hostilities. At the same time, it is important to ensure that the court captures the breadth and depth of serious crimes committed over the course of its mandate. The UN Mapping Report can be a resource in this regard.
While the SCC adopted a prosecutorial strategy, it is unclear whether and how it is being carried out. It could be helpful to create a focal point among the magistrates to help ensure cases that are moving forward are representative of the types of most significant harm victims have suffered and cover particular types of crimes, such as those related to sexual violence.
As of August 2021, 21 suspects were in pretrial detention, although the exact number and their identities have not been made public. A report by Amnesty International, and follow-up commentaries, criticized the SCC for not making public the identity of the suspects it is holding.
The SCC has maintained that these details cannot be disclosed due to the confidential nature of investigations (secret de l’enquête and secret de l’instruction), which is a general principle in many civil law systems.
While the confidentiality of investigations is generally enshrined in the SCC law, providing sufficient access for victims and the public to information on efforts to hold those accused of serious crimes to account is an important aspect of making them both effective and meaningful to victims. The SCC should seek to find ways to make as much information as possible available so that people can appreciate the court’s work while maintaining confidentiality of precise elements as needed.
This includes providing up-to-date information and statistics about its investigations and incidents of focus, access of victims and suspects to counsel, preparatory steps for trials, and timelines available to the public and donors, including in newsletters and on its website. Providing access to judicial decisions, even in redacted form, or at least publicizing outcomes of key judicial decisions could improve transparency. The court’s failure to regularly provide such basic information may undermine confidence in and support for its efforts.
There have been several challenges to the court becoming fully operational, some of which remain, while the SCC has addressed others, at least in part.
Arrest and detention: Most of the people in detention came into custody due to opportunistic circumstances. As Amnesty International highlighted in a December 2021 report, 25 SCC arrest warrants remain outstanding, and there may be even more such warrants issued since figures were last publicly available.
Human Rights Watch discussions with people connected to the court indicate that it may not be possible to locate some suspects and take them into custody, given insecurity across the country due to the control of large areas by armed groups, or that making some arrests may not be a priority. At the same time, Bouba’s surprise release underscores the political challenges with making arrests, especially with respect to suspects who may now hold government functions. It is incumbent upon the government, the United Nations, and the SCC to work together to ensure that suspects subject to SCC arrest warrants are taken into custody.
The detention infrastructure in the Central African Republic also poses challenges. There is severe overcrowding in facilities and detainees often stay in pretrial custody beyond the proscribed legal limits. Given the conditions, UN staff explored creating temporary high-security detention cells within an existing prison that could hold SCC suspects. On October 13, 2020, work began to extend the Ngaragba prison in Bangui to create facilities to detain SCC suspects. According to Avocats Sans Frontières and Human Rights Watch research, the Ngaragba prison has over 1,000 other prisoners and is in deplorable conditions.
Staffing: While many staff appointments were made in 2017, key positions at the SCC remained vacant and difficult to fill. The hiring and retention of some international staff has been particularly difficult, including because they are put forward and paid by their own governments. While this system reduces costs, it can reduce the number of applicants and can create lengthy and complex negotiations with contributing governments who are seconding their officials. For example, the international post of deputy registrar remained vacant for years, after a Senegalese citizen was appointed in June 2019 but was never able to take up the post. The UN circulated a new vacancy announcement in 2021 and a new candidate was nearing selection in mid-March 2022. The requirement that judges be “magistrates” can also limit the pool of applicants, as not all jurisdictions provide for judges to be magistrates.
Until 2021, only two of the intended three investigating chambers (chambres d’instruction) had been completed, constraining further progress in investigations. The reviewing chamber for pretrial matters (chambre d’accusation spéciale) was also not fully staffed until 2021, which may have led to procedural delays. The SCC has made a major recruitment effort in the last year. It has filled the existing posts of investigating and trial judges, and international appeals judges were recently sworn in, so that all the judicial organs of the court are now operational.
These senior officials also have limited support and resources. Some cabinets and chambers have been helped by legal advisers (conseiller juridique) in conducting international legal research. Having legal advisers in each organ who can help lawyers representing defendants and victims could ensure greater efficiency and coordination across the court and adequate resources for quality defense representation.
Security: Overall security of the premises and court staff is an ongoing challenge for the Special Criminal Court. There are important questions on how to maintain security for investigations and trials in a country where conflict persists, large parts of the country remain under the control of armed groups, and abuses continue to be perpetrated.
Security for magistrates from the Central African Republic who live outside the area covered by the peacekeepers’ security perimeter is also an issue of concern. While the government promised to provide domestic judges with housing in an identified area within this perimeter, this did not happen, and some domestic judges have not wanted to leave their homes. The Central African government has provided additional security forces, so that each national judge living outside the security perimeter has bodyguards and has strengthened the security systems in their homes.
Covid-19: The pandemic and related travel and work restrictions delayed the progress of investigations. Given the court’s 5-year mandate (albeit renewable), such delay has been unfortunate and underscores the importance of renewal of the court’s mandate to ensure the delivery of justice.
Fair trials that adhere to international standards are important to ensure war crimes prosecutions foster greater respect for the rule of law. Article 5 of the SCC’s procedural rules provides for protection of internationally accepted rights of the accused, including the presumption of innocence, the right to be tried without undue delay, and the right to counsel even if indigent.
The system of legal representation at the court was not formally established until 2021. A Victims and Defense Unit, attached to the Registry, filled a gap earlier in assigning defense counsel to suspects (under Article 184 of the rules), but a Special Body of Defense and Victims Lawyers (Corps Spécial des Avocats) was established in late 2020 to provide legal assistance to suspects and victims at the SCC. The Corps consists of 32 national lawyers and 16 international lawyers.
Lawyers have been assigned to represent suspects, but Human Rights Watch has been told that their judicial activity has been limited and there is a need for their early involvement in cases, even at the stage of preliminary examinations by the prosecutor. Lawyers from the Corps can also represent victims. Some court officials who interact with defense counsel have indicated there may be concerns over the level of renumeration available for their work.
Consultations among legal representatives and court officials on ways to improve the work of the Unit and the Corpsand increase engagement by national lawyers identified a need for improving consistent interpretation of applicable legal texts, providing overall support and security for court-appointed lawyers, ensuring ease of access to case files, SCC premises, and the accused, and compliance with deadlines, among other logistical issues.
It will be important to resolve any outstanding issues to enable quality representation of suspects and victims, including in terms of work product and resources. Especially given limitations on resources in the Central African Republic, the SCC should also make available as needed workspace for these lawyers, with the logistical support and resources necessary to carry out their functions, such as access to computers and photocopying.
Local lawyers are unlikely to have experience with defending suspects accused of the types of crimes under international law that will be prosecuted before the SCC. Training in international criminal law and practice has already been made available for lawyers. Given that there can be unique aspects in cases involving international crimes, ongoing access to training opportunities will be important, including those that focus on more practical aspects of representation and particularly for cases of conflict-related sexual violence.
International lawyers may also be appointed (under Article 59 of the rules) to assist suspects in the most sensitive cases and may work as a team with national lawyers if requested by a suspect, accused, or victim. Discussions are ongoing on how to recruit and involve international lawyers for this work. There are also discussions around setting up a mentorship program. Assigning legal officer(s) to assist in legal research or maintaining files and schedules could also be helpful in ensuring adequate resources for quality representation.
Victims have an important role in this court. In addition to serving as potential witnesses, victims can join the criminal proceedings as civil parties (parties civiles). A feature of civil law systems, civil parties serve as a formal party to the proceedings, alongside the prosecutor and the defendant. Civil parties may request an investigation, make submissions to the case file, examine witnesses, request steps to advance the investigation, and appeal the court’s decisions.
The opportunity for victims to become civil parties places victims more squarely at the center of the justice process, and is relatively novel in proceedings involving international crimes. Indigent victims who are civil parties at the SCC are entitled to a lawyer to represent them.
As of December 2020, the judges had received 22 complaints from victims who wished to be considered civil parties. Human Rights Watch has been told that many of these cases were already the subject of ongoing investigations, and the civil parties were invited to join the cases, although a small number of the cases are new.
Protection and support for both victims and witnesses are crucial to ensuring their safety and well-being, and to fostering their involvement in proceedings. In the Central African Republic, there is little experience with such protection and support, and the risks for victims and witnesses involved with the SCC could be high given the sensitive nature of cases, the location of the court in the country where the crimes were committed, and that armed groups continue to control parts of the country.
The court has a unit in place to provide concrete protection and support for witnesses and victims, drawing from international experience, led by an international practitioner with over 20 years of experience. The unit is responsible for risk assessments, transport, and logistical assistance, and psychosocial – mental health – support, and has a duty to advise the parties on such issues.
Ensuring adequate measures early in the process is critical given that access by defense counsel and the accused to information about witnesses and victims may be available during investigations, and earlier than such access is available in many common law systems. The work of the unit is necessarily shrouded in confidentiality to avoid putting the identity of victims and witnesses at risk or dissuading them from coming forward. This can be particularly difficult in a situation of ongoing conflict in which the unit must rely on MINUSCA for financial and logistical support for its field missions.
A major issue has been the type of reparations the SCC will have the authority to award victims. During consultations on the draft rules, Central African lawyers raised concerns that the proposed language on the rules did not envision the possibility of individual reparations, or even collective reparations, and appeared to only permit the award of “symbolic” reparations, such as memorials.
The rules now include the possibility of collective and individual reparations, to be decided by the trial chamber. But the SCC has also suggested that civil society organizations should inform victims that compensation (physical or financial) may not actually be deliverable.
For reparations to be feasible, observers suggest that a reparations fund should be put in place and funders should donate to it. UNDP and MINUSCA have hired a consultant to study this question.
14. What role is the SCC playing in providing information to local communities affected by the crimes in the Central African Republic?
Effective outreach initiatives are important to ensure that proceedings have maximum resonance with those who have been most affected by the crimes. The SCC describes outreach events carried out thus far on its website, including widespread screening of a documentary film about the court as well as a partnership with local radio station, Ndéké Luka. The SCC has published an outreach guide for civil society to support it in outreach.
The SCC had previously indicated that, as of 2020, 70 percent of the population had been informed of its existence and work, based on a countrywide survey recorded and published by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.
For the upcoming trial, there have been many discussions at the SCC on how to strike a balance between public access to information about the trial and protecting the identity of victims and witnesses who might be testifying. Thus far and based on conversations with one source, the SCC plans to record proceedings for archival purposes and prepare daily 3–5-minute summaries of proceedings that can be broadcast on Central African media.
Human Rights Watch was told that journalists may have access to public sessions of the proceedings and be able to record them, serving as an intermediary for the public, although this was still to be confirmed. Local television and radio also are slated to broadcast the opening of the trial, the closing submissions, and judicial decisions at the end of the trial. In addition, the SCC plans to provide television and satellite access in villages where victims live and where the crimes took place, so that affected communities can watch key moments of the proceedings.
Despite its important mandate, the Special Criminal Court has a relatively limited budget compared to other hybrid judicial institutions trying international crimes. The SCC’s budget for 2021 was approximately $15 million and is planned to be around $14 million in 2022 and 2023.
The SCC has a complex funding situation that reflects increased challenges accountability efforts for serious crimes have faced in different countries in securing adequate resources to function in recent years. The SCC has received a patchwork of support consisting of voluntary contributions from foreign donors including France, the Netherlands, the European Union, and the United States, the MINUSCA and UNDP budgets, and limited support from the Central African Republic government. Some of the support is earmarked for specific activities or is in-kind assistance, which can make it difficult to cover the full range of needed court operations. In addition, provision of international magistrates through secondments by governments helps to minimize costs, but risks compromising the court’s perceived or actual independence and has led to bureaucratic challenges.
Other countries should step forward to provide increased international support to ensure the SCC has all of the necessary funds to function effectively, especially as it moves into the trial phase. Otherwise, the opportunity to deliver justice in a country where it is so needed and desired will be squandered, along with the international investment to date.
A group of countries interested in the court’s work and relevant UN agencies operates in New York, chaired by the government of Morocco. This group can be valuable in mobilizing greater resources for the court. However, this group has not met since January 2020, although a meeting is in the process of being convened. The group should resume its meetings and consider identifying a person within the group to focus on the court’s resources to capitalize on fundraising opportunities.