The government in the Central African Republic has asked the International Criminal Court to look into whether war crimes have been committed in the country during the two and a half years since the U.N. tribunal began operating.
The Rome-based court has not yet decided whether legal grounds exist for a full investigation into alleged war crimes to go forward. But it has now begun a preliminary assessment.
"In order to determine if there is a reasonable basis to open an investigation," said
International Criminal Court spokesman Yves Sorokobi.
He says the government of President Francois Bozize wants the U.N. court to probe suspected abuses that may have been carried out during the rule of his predecessor, Ange Felix Patasse, the man he ousted from power two years ago.
"Those crimes involve crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of genocide,” he added. “We would have to identify a series or a certain number of crimes, massacres, killings and things that may fall under the jurisdiction of the court. I believe that the authorities in the Central African Republic suspect that such crimes have been committed and that's why they are asking us to look into that."
The investigation would only go as far back as 2002, when the court's jurisdiction began.
One of the world's poorest nations, the Central African Republic has a long history of human rights abuses carried out under successive military regimes that have ruled the landlocked country since it gained independence from France in 1960.
The most infamous ruler was Colonel Jean Bedel Bokassa, who proclaimed himself emperor and conducted a reign of terror in the 1970's that included involvement in torture and cannibalism, charges that ultimately led to his conviction on murder during a trial in 1987 that drew headlines around the world.