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International Criminal Court opens field office in Central African Republic

International Criminal Court opens field office in Central African Republic

The International Criminal Court (ICC) today opened a new field office in the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), less than five months after its prosecutors agreed to open an investigation into whether war crimes have been committed there.

At a ceremony in Bangui attended by representatives of the CAR Government, judicial authorities, the diplomatic corps and others, ICC Registrar Bruno Cathala inaugurated the office.

Mr. Cathala said “the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court was especially dependant on its acceptance and the understanding of its role by the people of the Central African Republic and, in particular, by the victims of crimes under investigation by the Prosecutor.”

Mr. Cathala also met with CAR President Francois Bozizé and Prime Minister Elie Dote to brief them on the Court’s mandate and functioning.

Earlier this year the CAR Government referred the war crimes issue to the ICC, saying the national justice system was not capable of carrying out the complex investigations and proceedings necessary to prosecute the alleged crimes. In May ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced his office would investigate, as it believed that “grave crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the Court were committed,” particularly rape, during 2002-2003.

When the violence peaked in those two years during an armed conflict between the Government and rebel forces, civilians were killed and raped and homes and stores were looted, the ICC said, citing a preliminary analysis. The conflict was characterized by widespread use of rape, and the investigation marks the first time the Prosecutor is examining a situation where allegations of sexual crimes far outnumber alleged killings. He said he would also monitor the current situation to determine whether more recent events warrant further investigation.

Bangui is the fifth field office established by the ICC in the countries where its prosecutors are investigating possible war crimes, and joins offices already open in the Ugandan capital, Kampala; Kinshasa and Bunia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); and Abéché in eastern Chad.

The office serves as the ICC’s public face in the field, providing administrative and logistical support for its activities. It is designed to help investigation teams, defence lawyers and experts in victim participation and reparation, outreach and witness protection work more effectively.