A militia commander from the Central African Republic (CAR) who was transferred to The Hague last weekend has made his first appearance before a judge at the International Criminal Court (ICC), where he confirmed his identity and was informed of the charges against him.
Xavier-Jean Keita, who represented Alfred Yekatom, told judges that when the accused was arrested last month, “he was tortured … he was beaten with Kalashnikovs, with the butts of guns.” He said Yekatom “still has visible signs of the beatings on his body and a physician at the detention center has observed this.” Yekatom was arrested by Central African government authorities and surrendered to the court on November 17.
Keita also said that since his arrest, the accused had only been able to see a judge today. Similarly, he had not seen a lawyer until his arrival in The Hague. Keita asked judges to investigate the matter in order to protect the honor of the ICC and to defend the rights of accused persons.
In response, Presiding Judge Antoine Kesia‐Mbe Mindua asked the defense to file a submission which the ICC prosecution, and possibly the prosecution office in the CAR, would respond to.
Yekatom, 43, stands accused of murder, torture and cruel treatment, mutilation, attacking buildings dedicated to religion, and actively using child soldiers in hostilities. He allegedly committed the crimes while leading a section of the Anti-Balaka, a predominantly Christian militia, which fought against the Seleka, a coalition of armed groups predominantly composed of Muslims.
In the arrest warrant, Pre-Trial Chamber III found reasonable grounds to believe that, from September 2013 to December 2014, Anti-Balaka fighters, including those subordinate to Yekatom, attacked Muslim civilians perceived as supporters of the Seleka. It said the attacks were carried out in furtherance of an organizational policy to target Muslims in the capital Bangui and at least five prefectures in the west of the country, in retribution for crimes committed by the Seleka.
According to the warrant, Anti-Balaka attacks targeted a large number of Muslim communities following a consistent pattern of violence, including forcible displacement, killings, torture, deprivation of physical liberty, looting of Muslim homes and businesses, and destruction of mosques and Muslim homes.
Yekatom served in the national army, the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), before being elected a member of parliament. The prosecution says he commanded an Anti-Balaka group consisting of around 3,000 men, of whom 200 were former FACA members. It also says the accused was a top leader in the Anti-Balaka militia, who represented it at high-level meetings and negotiations.
The prosecution contends that Yekatom’s group was hierarchically organized into sub-groups headed by commanders, many of them former FACA members. It adds that Yekatom issued orders to the group and his subordinates obeyed his orders.
Furthermore, the prosecution says the group had various weapons at its disposal, including machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades, AK-47 rifles, hunting rifles and machetes.
In September 2014, the ICC prosecutor announced that she had opened an investigation into the violence that had been experienced in the CAR since August 2012. The situation in the country was referred to the court by the Central African government.
The Pre-Trial Chamber II is hearing Yekatom’s case and is composed of Judge Antoine Kesia‐Mbe Mindua (Presiding), Judge Tomoko Akane, and Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala.
The judges set March 30, 2019 as the date for the start of the confirmation of charges hearings.