On August 22, 2023, the opening of the Confirmation of Charges Hearings in the case of Maxime Jeoffroy Eli Mokom Gawaka will officially begin at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The process is part of the ongoing legal proceedings that will determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to a full trial.
Mokom, a former leader of the Anti-Balaka militia group operating in the Central African Republic (CAR), faces allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The charges include murder, torture, rape, persecution, and pillage, said to have occurred between December 2013 and December 2014 during the civil conflict in the CAR.
Mokom is set to appear before Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala, who will be the presiding judge. Judge Salvatore Aitala will be assisted by Judge Tomoko Akane and Judge Segio Gerado Ugalde Godínez sitting at the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber II.
The hearing which is expected to end on August 24, 2023, will see the prosecution, the defense and the legal representatives of victims present their oral submissions before the judges, arguing on the merits of the case. For the prosecution, this hearing marks a pivotal moment as they undertake to demonstrate that the allegations against Mokom are supported by substantial and compelling evidence.
According to the charges, Mokom held a senior leadership position within the Anti-Balaka, a movement opposed to the Seleka and in support of former CAR president François Bozizé. In this role, the prosecution alleges that Mokom played a critical role in organising Anti-Balaka attacks in the capital Bangui and Bossangoa in December 2013 and was designated as the Anti-Balaka National Co-ordinator for Operations in January 2014, a position he allegedly held throughout 2014. Moreover, the charges read that Mokom monitored and facilitated the activities of Anti-Balaka commanders on the ground, directly liaising with local leaders and senior members of the National Co-ordination.
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The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Mokom in 2018, based on reasonable grounds to believe he was responsible, as the co-ordinator of the Anti-Balaka militias, for crimes committed against Muslim civilians during attacks across the country between September 2013 and December 2014. The charges include the targeting of Muslim populations and those perceived to support the Seleka.
Meanwhile, Mokom’s defense will strive to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case on the allegations leveled against him. Their aim being to reveal any gaps in the evidence and present counter arguments that question the charges’ veracity.
The defense’s strategy may also involve invoking broader legal and ethical questions, such as the jurisdiction of the ICC and the principles of national sovereignty. This could make the hearings not only a legal spectacle but also a forum for addressing some of the most pressing issues in international law.
The stakes are high as the judges’ decision in this hearing will determine whether the charges against Mokom hold weight, with far-reaching implications for the course of justice. If the charges are confirmed, the case will advance to a full trial. There, additional evidence will be examined, and the legal arguments will be presented comprehensively.
As anticipation builds around the Mokom Confirmation of Charges Hearings, legal experts, human rights advocates, and the international community at large are closely monitoring the proceedings. The hearings offer a glimpse into the strength of the prosecution’s case, the credibility of witnesses, and the depth of the alleged crimes. For many survivors and affected communities, these hearings are a beacon of hope, signifying that justice might finally be within reach after years of suffering and loss.
While the Mokom case brings with it a sense of optimism, there are challenges that cannot be ignored. Proving international crimes beyond a reasonable doubt often require complex investigations, cooperation from states, and the courage of witnesses willing to testify against powerful figures. Additionally, the international community’s expectations for swift justice must be balanced with the meticulous and thorough legal process necessary for a fair trial.
Beyond the courtroom, Mokom’s Confirmation of Charges Hearings transcends the confines of a single case, exemplifying the broader mission of the ICC to ensure accountability for the most serious international crimes. These proceedings serve as a reminder that no individual, regardless of their position, is above the law. The outcome of the hearings will set precedence for how future cases of similar magnitude will be handled.