War crimes suspect ‘Rambo’ handed over to ICC
A commander in a Central African Republic militia who is known as “Rambo” and is wanted on suspicion of war crimes, including murder, deportation and torture of Muslims, has been handed over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the tribunal said.
Officials from the Central African Republic transferred the commander, Alfred Yekatom, on Saturday to officials from the court, which is looking into more than six years of violence that has destabilized a fragile region at the heart of the continent.
Mr. Yekatom, a sitting member of Parliament, was flown out of the country and arrived in the court’s detention center in The Hague early Sunday, officials there said.
There was no immediate comment from Mr. Yekatom or any lawyers representing him.
A United Nations commission of inquiry found that Christian militias under Mr. Yekatom had carried out war crimes and crimes against humanity by targeting Muslims.
The International Criminal Court, set up to prosecute the worst crimes when member countries cannot or will not do so, issued a sealed arrest warrant for Mr. Yekatom on Nov. 11.
“We allege Mr. Yekatom is criminally responsible for several counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the Central African Republic between 5 December 2013 and August 2014,” said an International Criminal Court prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda. “Now, he must answer in court for his actions.”
Ms. Bensouda is carrying out two separate investigations into conflicts in the Central African Republic. Mr. Yekatom’s arrest is the first in the more recent conflict.
She paid tribute to witnesses who helped her build the case against Yekatom, saying “justice would not be possible” without them, according to The Associated Press.
“We cannot undo the suffering that has been inflicted on victims, but we remain committed to doing our part,” Ms. Bensouda added, “to advance justice and accountability in the Central African Republic.”\
A pretrial chamber found reason to suspect Mr. Yekatom of commanding around 3,000 members of an armed group operating within the anti-Balaka movement, which was carrying out systematic attacks against the Muslim population.
Among the charges in the warrant are murder, cruel treatment, deportation, imprisonment, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance and the recruitment of child soldiers under the age of 15.
No date has been set yet for Mr. Yekatom’s initial appearance, but he must be brought before a judge within several days under court rules.
A former French colony, the Central African Republic is one of Africa’s poorest countries despite reserves of gold and diamonds. It was plunged into chaos when the predominately Muslim Seleka rebels started attacking towns and grabbing territory before seizing power in March 2013.
Seleka’s rule prompted a backlash from Christian militia known as anti-Balaka. Under international pressure, Seleka handed power to a transitional government, but the move effectively partitioned the country and bloody clashes continue.
The government of the Central African Republic asked the I.C.C. in May 2014 to investigate crimes said to have been committed by both the Seleka and the anti-Balaka.
In June, appeals judges from the court overturned the conviction of Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, for atrocities committed by his forces in Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003, saying the trial judges had made errors.