Human rights defenders have added their voice to the chorus calling for the rearrest of a government minister who has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity before the Special Criminal Court in the Central African Republic, and was freed from detention in unclear circumstances.
Human Rights Watch asked the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) to coordinate with United Nations peacekeepers to ensure that Livestock and Animal Health Minister Ali Hassan Bouba is returned into custody to face due process.
“If the Central African Republic wants to address impunity for atrocities, the government needs to support the Special Criminal Court and Bouba’s immediate re-arrest,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Allowing Bouba to be released in defiance of the Special Criminal Court’s orders undermines efforts to advance justice and increases the possibility that he could flee.”
Anadolu Agency quoted human rights defender Bruno Hyacinthe Gbiegba, a lawyer and deputy coordinator of the CAR National Coalition for the ICC, as saying that the country’s lawyers had on Monday, November 29, gone on strike and held a demonstration in front of the headquarters of the Special Criminal Court (SCC).
“No public hearing will be held on this day. We are calling for independent justice,” Gbiegba was quoted as saying.
Africanews media service said an association representing victims in the Central African Republic demanded that the authorities provide fair justice for all and respect the agreement signed for the return of peace. It quoted an official saying that whether Bouba is a member of the government or not, he must answer for his actions before the courts. He also called for respect of the principle of the Khartoum agreement, “which provides for zero impunity for perpetrators of crimes committed in the Central African Republic”.
The opposition accused the president of being involved in the release of Bouba, but a special adviser to the presidency denied the allegations.
As outrage continued to mount about Bouba’s release, the CAR government has not issued any official statement on the matter even though its gendarmes are the ones who freed him from detention in defiance of court orders and escorted him to his home on November 26, 2021. Bouba has also not been relieved of his ministerial duties.
Instead, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra was said to have handed Bouba an award after his release by government forces.
Quoting a government decree read out on state radio, AFP news agency reported that the minister was named a “commander in the Central African Republic’s national order of merit”.
Bouba is a former top rebel and is suspected of involvement in the massacre of civilians in 2018.
He was arrested and charged on Friday, November 19, with war crimes and crimes against humanity before the SCC, which later issued a press statement saying the Investigating Chamber had placed him in pre-trial detention for five working days. He was detained at a military camp outside Bangui.
He was expected to be brought back before the court on Friday, November 26, but he was freed before he could appear.
The SCC denounced the release of Bouba as “interference with justice” and an attack on the independence of the judiciary. It asked for the support of the CAR government in the execution of its orders.