International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

ICC to Open Investigation into Central African Republic (Again)

CAR violenceICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced this weekend that her office will be opening an investigation into the violence occurring in the Central African Republic. The investigation will be looking into the conflict that began in late 2012 between the Central African Republic government and the rebel group Seleka. The situation escalated in March of this past year when the rebel group ousted president François Bozizé in a coup. Since then, the violence has continued, as violence and pillaging from rebel groups has prompted the formation of local militias. The violence is occurring largely on religious lines, as the rebel groups are primarily Muslims, and the local militias primarily Christian. Bensouda has cited claims of killings, sexual violence, and other acts of war crimes and brutalities as reason to investigate. The CAR is a member state of the Rome Statute, therefore this falls under the ICC’s jurisdiction, and Bensouda has not specified if there is a particular side of the conflict that will be investigated. Bensouda has also said that, in following the principle of complementarity, the ICC will be working with the CAR to look into domestic solutions to bring perpetrators to justice.

What makes this case particularly interesting is the fact that this is not the first ICC investigation into the Central African Republic. In 2007, the ICC also opened investigation into the CAR. At that time, it was a self-referral by the CAR government, which deemed itself unable to properly prosecute offenders of the violence that happened in 2002 and 2003 between Christian and Muslim militia groups. The investigation drew international attention, as it was the first ICC investigation to focus on sexual violence as the primary crime. The investigation resulted in the arrest of former CAR Vice President Jean-Pierre Bamba, who was arrested and is currently awaiting trial in the Hague.

This second ICC investigation into the CAR brings up questions regarding the effectiveness of the ICC, particularly in regards to its goal of providing deterrence. The 2007 investigation and the arrest of Jean-Pierre Bamba failed to stop the violence in the region, and the crimes being investigated this time around are more or less the same that were the center of the previous investigation. While the arrest of Bamba does make it seem as though the ICC is succeeding on the front of providing justice and preventing impunity for atrocities that have occurred, the CAR’s relapse into violence is a clear marker of how it is failing to deter future atrocities.

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2 responses to “ICC to Open Investigation into Central African Republic (Again)

  1. pstichnoth February 10, 2014 at 12:02 am

    I wonder about the effectiveness of the ICC as a deterrent when the alleged perpetrator wasn’t on the ground in the country of interest–Bemba was based in DRC, not CAR. If he wasn’t particularly well-known to people in CAR, would his arrest have been a deterrent at all? The problem with this idea, though, is that Bemba probably would have been known to high-level officials who may be responsible for current and continuing violence.

    I tend to think that concrete rebuilding is really important post-conflict. It’s hard for societies to reconcile when roads have been destroyed and people don’t have houses. Even though the current conflict in CAR has occurred under a whole new regime, it doesn’t seem like the issues that led to earlier violence were ever really resolved. So Bemba’s arrest hasn’t yet had the chance to influence a “new generation” of Central Africans who weren’t involved in or at least affected by the earlier conflict. Of course, it’s impossible to tell for sure what the deterrence effect has been, if anything, but as we’ve discussed in class, reconciliation takes place more over generations than over several years.

  2. angelalg February 10, 2014 at 12:41 am

    As you mention, the CAR investigation (2.0) creates an interesting opportunity to investigate the ICC’s impact on deterring crises. We can see from cases similar to the CAR such as Sudan, Libya, Uganda, DRC, and more, that the ICC’s presence, prosecution and/or previous investigations into countries and regional rulers does not prevent the continued/future occurrence of human rights abuses. In many ways, it’s hard to support the argument that the ICC has a strong impact on deterrence.

    When a political leader weighs the consequences of his/her actions to destroy opposing factions, it is difficult to determine where the threat of the ICC comes into play and how that threat of criminal prosecution operates in the decision-making process. Part of the issue may be the lack of clear measurements of what constitutes an “incriminating” case and what falls within the “legal limits” of violent crimes. Like many “red lines” drawn in the IR world, the success of deterrence is limited.

    That being said, considering deterrence outside the geographic and temporal limits of a specific country and time period, an argument for the ICC’s role as a deterrent court can still be made. Although I am skeptical given the numerous examples (and I generally agree with the above comment/argument that a lot of this depends on the degree and success of reconciliation and rebuilding efforts), I think Sikkink might have an interesting argument to make regarding the ICC’s true role as a deterrent court. Sikkink would likely argue for the existence of a long-term legal deterrence factor. Following her thought process and historical data, it would seem that the ICC might posses the ability to deter future generations of political leaders from committing violent acts (even within similar countries and regions which have faced ICC action). The ICC works to establish and solidify human rights norms and, perhaps after repeated trials and bolder red lines, it will act as a stronger deterrent in the future.

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