On 22 September 2016, the Africa Group for Justice and Accountability hosted a multi-stakeholder conference in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR). Entitled “Special Criminal Court for Central African Republic — Context, Challenges and Perspectives” the conference offered an opportunity to reflect on how the soon to be established Special Criminal Court (SCC) will operate and what challenges its mixed international and national court staff will face.
Inaugurated by CAR’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Jean-Christophe Nguinza, the conference brought together Central African government representatives and judicial officials, members of the diplomatic community, international organisations (especially the UN’s peacekeeping mission MINUSCA in CAR), NGO representatives, as well as ordinary Central African citizens wanting to find out more about the proposed hybrid tribunal.
Moreover, two AGJA members, Catherine Samba Panza and Hassan Bubacar Jallow, led the Group’s mission to CAR and contributed to the conference discussions.
“We organised this conference so that Central Africans could take ownership of the court,” Samba Panza told the gathering. “You, me, all of us here, national actors, we are learning… and now we know where our national efforts to build this Special Criminal Court are.”
“Most crimes will be dealt with by the ordinary national courts. It is necessary to support these courts which are the foundation of the Special Criminal Court so that the entire Central African judicial system can make progress”
AGJA member and former Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals Hassan Bubacar Jallow kicked off the first panel with an overview of prosecutorial strategies used at other international criminal tribunals, arguing that the SCC will have to strike a balance between the need to provide justice to a large number of victims and the operational realities and resource constraints of a hybrid tribunal.
Chief of MINUSCA’s Justice and Corrections Unit Frank Dalton and first President of the Court of Cassation Jose Christian Londoumon both focused on the legal framework and procedural aspects of setting up the tribunal, in particular the challenges of recruiting international and national magistrates to staff the SCC.
Stephen Rapp, the former United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues moderated the second panel and provided context to the whole debate, drawing on his experience of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to flag potential challenges and opportunities for the SCC.
In the second panel, four panelists addressed the practical needs of various groups that will be involved with the SCC, specifically victim and witness protection, rights of the accused and defense counsel, the challenges of effective outreach and securing a lasting legacy for the Tribunal.
Didier Preira, former Deputy Registrar of the International Criminal Court and expert consultant of the Africa Group for Justice and Accountability, underlined in his presentation the importance of outreach. He said that expectation management was of utmost importance, and that it was fundamental to inform the population about what the court could and could not do.
There was a wide range of comments from various stakeholders, marked by an enthusiasm for the SCC and a firm belief that it must be established and operationalised as soon as possible.
However, there were a number of practical concerns. Many commenters from the floor reflected on the uncertainty about what the SCC could do for them. Judges, prosecutors and police officers voiced concerns about how the SCC could guarantee their safety. Other questions focused on procedural and substantive issues regarding the SCC’s legal framework, showing a clear need to provide more information about the SCC and progress made thus far.