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New CAR Court Seen as Milestone in Fight Against Impunity

FILE - Anti-Balaka combatants patrol in the parish of Gambo, southeastern Central African Republic, Aug. 16, 2017.

The U.N. Human Rights Office welcomes the establishment of the Special Criminal Court in the Central African Republic, calling it a milestone in the fight against impunity.

Over the past six years, war between the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels and Christian anti-Balaka has killed thousands. It has displaced about one quarter of Central African Republic's population of 4.6 million both internally and as refugees. Violence and gross human rights violations are rampant throughout the country.

The U.N. human rights office sees the establishment of the Special Criminal Court as a huge step toward ending decades of recurring violence and abuse in the country. Spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, told VOA it is hoped prosecutions by the court will help break the cycle of impunity, which has plunged the country into one conflict after another.

"The establishment of this court, which its mandate is also to ensure that its proceedings are carried out in a very public way, which should send a message to the perpetrators of human rights violations in the Central African Republic that this will no longer be tolerated. In addition, the International Criminal Court is also engaged on the Central African Republic. So, both courts will be working concurrently," she said.

This so-called hybrid court is composed of 13 judges from the CAR and 12 international judges. It will investigate and prosecute serious crimes, in particular the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in the country since January 1, 2003.

The pattern of granting blanket amnesties throughout its history has allowed impunity to thrive in CAR at the expense of the rule of law. The United Nations says the court aims to support a durable reconciliation process and bring justice to the victims. It says these actions might finally succeed in bringing peace and stability to the country.