Central African Republic: No courts, no jails, no justice

The violence-torn Central African Republic (CAR) lacks a functioning judicial system, a prominent judicial official has said, citing lack of security for courts and jails.

The violence-torn Central African Republic (CAR) lacks a functioning judicial system, a prominent judicial official has said, citing lack of security for courts and jails.

By Hassan Isilow

BANGUI - The violence-torn Central African Republic (CAR) lacks a functioning judicial system, a prominent judicial official has said, citing lack of security for courts and jails.

"We can`t prosecute anyone at the moment because we don`t have security to guard the court premises," Chief Prosecutor Ghislain Gre`senguet told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview conducted at the Bangui High court.

He asserted that the nation`s law courts could not resume their duties due to the ongoing sectarian violence currently wracking the country.

"On November 16, 2013, members of the judiciary went on strike after ex-seleka militants killed our colleague, Magistrate Modeste Bria," Gre`senguet said.

"Before we could end our strike, the sectarian violence intensified and on December 5 we all fled for safety," he added.

CAR descended into anarchy in March 2013 when Seleka rebels – said to be mostly Muslim – ousted Francois Bozize, a Christian, who had come to power in a 2003 coup. The rebels later installed Michel Djotodia, a Muslim, as interim president.

In the months since, the country has been plagued by tit-for-tat sectarian violence between Christian anti-balaka militias and former seleka fighters.

Violence against Muslims has intensified since Catherine Samba-Panza, a Christian who had been serving as mayor of capital Bangui, was elected interim president in January.

Machete-wielding Christian militiamen now roam the Bangui suburbs, often erecting illegal checkpoints in order to identify and lynch Muslims.

A number of Muslims have recently been lynched in broad daylight and their bodies set on fire. Several mosques in Bangui, too, have been destroyed and scores of Muslim homes looted.

Christians, who constitute the majority of CAR`s population, accuse Muslims of supporting former seleka rebels blamed for attacking Christian homes, looting property and carrying out summary executions.

-Insecure-

Gre`senguet, for his part, says court staffers fear that militants from the two warring camps could attack them during court proceedings.

He also lamented the absence of adequate security at the nation`s prisons.

The chief prosecutor cited a recent incident in which a Christian mob stormed Bangui`s central prison and killed five ex-seleka rebels.

"Before justice resumes, we need to first have secure prisons where we can keep offenders," Gre`senguet insisted.

"I have written to the [African peacekeeping force] MISCA commander asking if he could give us troops to guard the prisons, but I never received a reply," he said.

Gre`senguet also criticized the performance of UN-mandated peacekeepers deployed in CAR.

"I`m upset with the conduct of some peacekeepers because some of them just watch as mobs lynch Muslim or Christian civilians, which is very disturbing," he said.

"Why are they in Bangui in the first place if they can`t stop ethno-religious cleansing?" he asked.

Spokesmen for the French and African peacekeeping forces currently stationed in the country were not immediately available for comment.

-Optimistic-

Gre`senguet also lamented that judicial employees had not received salaries for the last five months.

"The staff needs to be paid before they can resume their duties because most of them are living in debt now," he said.

When AA visited the High Court, the premises were quiet except for a few staff members who loitered about.

"We wish this violence ends. We want to return to work," one employee said, declining to give his name.

"We`re fed up with sitting at home doing nothing," he added.

However, the chief prosecutor is optimistic that those who have committed heinous crimes during the country`s recent spate of sectarian bloodletting would eventually be brought to book.

"We have pictures and videos of people lynching and burning others," he said. "We shall compile this and charge them."

Gre`senguet went on to assert that even those guilty parties who had fled the country would not escape justice.

"We shall use international law, like what Rwanda did to the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide," he said.

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