Alfred Yekatom, a leader of one of the militia groups at the center of the long-running armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR), was transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) detention center on November 17, a week after judges issued a warrant for his arrest.
The commander of the Anti-Balaka movement, which is comprised of some 3,000 fighters, is accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the CAR between December 2013 and August 2014. According to the warrant for his arrest, judges found reasonable grounds to believe that the Anti-Balaka conducted a widespread and systematic attack against the Muslim civilian population and anyone perceived to support the rival group known as the Seleka.
According to a statement from the court, the armed conflict in the country pitted the Seleka, a coalition of armed groups predominantly composed of Muslims, against the Anti-Balaka, a predominantly Christian militia.
The crimes alleged against Yekatom, 43, include murder, torture and cruel treatment, mutilation, intentional attack against civilians, and intentional attack against buildings dedicated to religion. Others are enlistment of children under the age of 15 years and actively involving them in hostilities, displacement of the civilian population, and destruction of the adversary’s property.
In May 2014, the Central African government referred the situation in the country to the ICC. Four months later, the prosecutor announced that she had opened an investigation into the violence experienced in the country since August 2012.
Under the prosecutor’s first investigation into the situation in the CAR, former Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba was tried over the rape, murder, and pillaging committed by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops during 2002 and 2003. The troops were in the country to help its then-president, Ange-Félix Patassé, fight off a coup attempt. Bemba was acquitted last June.
There were questions as to why the ICC prosecutor did not bring charges against Patassé, who invited Bemba’s troops into the conflict and who commanded the national army that fought alongside the MLC as they brutalized civilians. Patassé was overthrown by his former army commander, François Bozizé in 2003, and he himself faced a protracted armed insurrection led by the Seleka, leading to his overthrow in March 2013.
The period following Bozizé’s overthrow saw increased violence in the country of 4.7 million people, during which ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda says many grave crimes were committed. Bensouda said the cause of justice in the CAR had been strengthened by Yekatom’s surrender to the court by Central African authorities. “In accordance with my office’s mandate under the Rome Statute, we aim to shed light on the truth about the crimes committed in the Central African Republic and bring to account those who we allege bear responsibility for atrocity crimes,” she added.
The date for Yekatom’s first appearance before a judge has not been announced yet.