The International Criminal Court (ICC) held the first hearing in the case against Mahamat Saïd Abdel Kani on Thursday and Friday. Saïd is believed to be a former commander of the Séléka, a primarily-Muslim coalition of armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR). CAR officials surrendered Saïd to the ICC on January 24.
Saïd is suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Séléka in the CAR capital Bangui in 2013. These are “crimes against humanity (imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty; torture; persecution; enforced disappearance; and other inhumane acts); and war crimes (torture and cruel treatment).”
The Séléka, opposed to former President François Bozizé, launched an attack against the government in December 2012, in response to which the Anti-Balaka, an alliance of militia groups that support Bozizé and oppose the Séléka, was formed. In the process of this internal armed conflict that lasted from March 2013 to January 2014, a widespread and systematic attack was allegedly conducted by the Séléka against civilians and those supportive of the Anti-Balaka. It is claimed that the violence resulted in thousands of deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. At the request of CAR, the ICC opened an investigation in September 2014.
CAR held presidential and legislative elections on December 27 last year amid ongoing violence and unrest caused by the rebel and militia groups.
Saïd is the third suspect arrested in the ongoing investigation and the first from the Séléka group. Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Said’s case is an important step, but it should be followed by other cases against Seleka leaders, some of whom are implicated in abuses still being committed today.”
The hearing on confirmation of charges is scheduled to open on October 5, and a trial will be conducted if charges are confirmed. Two Anti-Balaka suspects are scheduled to have their trials begin next month.