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Arrest Warrant Issued for Former Central African Republic President

Time for Bozizé to Face Justice; Guinea-Bissau Should Facilitate Extradition

François Bozizé, former president of the Central African Republic, during the first anniversary of the CAR Peace Agreement at the Palais de la Renaissance, in Bangui, CAR, on February 6, 2020. © 2020 Photo by Gaël Grilhot / AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this week, the Special Criminal Court (SCC) of the Central African Republic issued an arrest warrant for former president François Bozizé. He is charged with crimes against humanity allegedly committed between February 2009 and March 23, 2013, by the Presidential Guard and other security services at the Bossembelé military training center, referred to as “Guantanamo,” north of the country’s capital Bangui.

In April 2013, I interviewed 10 former detainees from Guantanamo who described conditions of near-starvation, constant beatings, torture, and extrajudicial executions. Later, I was taken to see two cells on either side of Bozizé’s private villa, concrete shafts in the ground with just enough space for a person to stand. A cement enclosure on top of the enclosures had air holes for a person to breathe, but no space to move. Reliable accounts by former prisoners indicate that individuals were placed in these cells and left there until they died.

The SCC is a novel court established to investigate and prosecute serious international crimes committed in Central African Republic since 2003. The court is staffed by both national and international judges and personnel.

Bozizé first fled Bangui in March 2013 as the Seleka, a mostly Muslim rebel coalition, took control of the Central African Republic amid widespread abuse, much of which was committed by Bozizé’s presidential guard, which killed at least hundreds of civilians and destroyed thousands of homes during unrest in the mid-2000s. Impunity for alleged crimes dates back even further. The Seleka gave rise to local militias, called anti-balaka, who in turn targeted Muslim civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Bozizé returned to the country in 2019 as it was wracked with conflict and later emerged as a key leader in a rebel coalition that attacked Bangui in late 2020 before going back into hiding in Guinea-Bissau.

Umaro Sissoco Embaló, the president of Guinea-Bissau, has told local media that he was surprised by the arrest warrant and that Bozizé had not done anything in Guinea-Bissau to call into question his exile status. Bozizé has been a glaring example of impunity in the Central African Republic for over a decade. Guinea-Bissau has a chance to play a role in finally bringing him to justice.

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