The confirmation of charges hearing for militia leader Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, who was transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) this week, have been scheduled to commence on June 18, 2019. Ngaïssona made his first appearance before an ICC judge this afternoon, where he confirmed his name, was informed of the charges against him and his rights under the court’s rules.
At the hearing, defense lawyer Eric Plouvier protested that Ngaïssona was arrested by French authorities despite possessing a diplomatic passport, and that French police attempted to question him in the absence of a lawyer. He added that the accused was held in an overcrowded cell that lacked “the minimum hygienic conditions.”
The defense lawyer said Ngaïssona was handcuffed while at an airport during transfer to The Hague, thereby violating his right to dignity. He added that although the accused is diabetic, he did not receive the necessary medication while in detention in France.
In response, Judge Antoine Kesia‐Mbe Mindua of Pre-Trial Chamber II asked the defense lawyer to file submissions on the complaints he had raised.
The ICC prosecutor says Ngaïssona was the most senior leader and the “National General Coordinator” of the Anti-Balaka militia, which allegedly brutalized Muslim civilians suspected of supporting a rival militia known as the Seleka.
Ngaïssona was arrested in France last December after the ICC issued a warrant for his arrest. The 51-year-old national of the Central African Republic (CAR) stands accused of several war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, torture and cruel treatment, mutilation, attacking buildings dedicated to religion, and actively using child soldiers in hostilities.
Article 60 of the court’s Rome Statute provides that, upon the surrender of an accused person to the court, or the person’s appearance before the court voluntarily or pursuant to a summons, the Pre-Trial Chamber shall satisfy itself that the person has been informed of the crimes which they allegedly committed.
Moreover, the accused person has to be informed of their rights, including the right to apply for interim release pending trial. Ngaïssona did not say whether he intended to apply for interim release.
However, he affirmed that he understood the charges against him. He was not required to enter a plea at today’s hearing.
The warrant for his arrest, which was issued on December 7, 2018, states that Ngaïssona was designated National General Coordinator of the Anti-Balaka in January 2014. The group aimed to fight the Seleka, who had deposed president François Bozizé.
The prosecution alleges that fighters of the Anti-Balaka, a predominantly Christian militia, committed numerous crimes as they fought against the Seleka, a coalition of armed groups predominantly composed of Muslims. It says the attacks were carried out in furtherance of an organizational policy to target Muslims in retribution for crimes committed by the Seleka.
According to the warrant, following meetings in Cameroon and France between Bozizé, Ngaïssona, and others loyal to the former president, it was agreed to organize pro- Bozizé forces to overthrow the Seleka. Thereafter, Ngaïssona reportedly provided finances to found the Anti-Balaka militia; transferred money from Bozizé to the militia to prepare attacks, procured ammunition, and gave orders such as to attack perceived enemy positions.
The crimes against humanity are murder and attempted murder, extermination, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts. The war crimes are murder, torture, cruel treatment, mutilation, intentionally directing an attack against the civilian population, intentionally directing an attack against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance.
Other war crimes are intentionally directing an attack against buildings dedicated to religion, pillaging, enlistment of children under the age of 15 years and their use to participate actively in hostilities, displacement of the civilian population, and destroying or seizing the property of an adversary.
Last November, a former commander in the same group which Ngaïssona is said to have led was transferred to The Hague on similar charges. Alfred Yekatom, 43, 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.
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.