United Nations peace keeping troops take part in a ceremony in the capital city of Bangui, Central African Republic, Sept. 15, 2014.
United Nations peace keeping troops take part in a ceremony in the capital city of Bangui, Central African Republic, Sept. 15, 2014.

More than 500 delegates representing all stakeholders in the Central African Republic begin a week-long reconciliation forum Monday in Bangui on the future of the strive-torn country, including its proposed constitution. Ahead of the meeting, Amnesty International sent an open letter to the transitional authorities urging them to amend all clauses in the proposed constitution that could undermine the fight against impunity. Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for West and Central Africa, said one of the concerns is the document gives the president immunity from prosecution for all charges except “high treason.”

“The current draft of that constitution includes a number of clauses that could allow perpetrators of human rights violations to escape justice.  Now, a couple examples I can give you, for example, the president of a country in the new constitution could not be charged with any crime except for high treason.  And, that will also be the same for former presidents as well,” he said.

Cockburn said the same exemption will apply to former presidents of the CAR.  He said transitional authorities have responded to the calls of the population for an end to impunity by establishing a new court to prosecute those suspected of crimes under international law.

“Ensuring that a new constitution builds on this progress, rather than undermining it, would be a valuable legacy for the transitional authorities to leave,” Cockburn said.

He said Amnesty is calling for the draft constitution to be amended so that anyone, no matter their position, can be held accountable.  Cockburn said the CAR’s history is replete with people being given amnesty for very serious crimes and making deals to escape justice.

“Obviously, in a peace process, there are always compromises made.  But, one thing you cannot compromise with are crimes against humanity, war crimes, or genocide.  It’s against international law to do so.  It also would be against the Central African Republic’s own criminal code.  And, it wouldn’t really help to build a real and sustainable peace,” he said.

He described allegations that French peacekeepers sexually assault boys in the CAR as extremely serious.  Cockburn called for a swift and transparent investigation as soon as possible and in a way that put the rights of the children first.

“The battle against impunity is for everyone.  We have to condemn and to hold people accountable for crimes committed whether those people are Central African militias or whether they are UN peacekeepers, the same principles apply to everyone,” Cockburn said.