Central African war crimes suspect appears at ICC

THE HAGUE (AFP) – A Central African Republic (CAR) war crimes suspect made his first appearance at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Friday after being handed over to the Hague-based tribunal.

Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, 50, an alleged leader of the rebel coalition Seleka, was surrendered to the custody of the ICC last Sunday by Central African authorities.

Violence following the ouster of former leader Francois Bozize in 2013 pitted the Seleka against mainly Christian vigilante self-defence groups known as anti-Balaka.

“I will be silent for now and express myself when the time comes,” said Kani, appearing by videolink from the ICC’s detention centre due to restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am not yet very fully informed of my rights. I am aware that as a suspect I am presumed innocent.”

The hearing was spread over two days as the court grappled with technical problems as several participants took part by video link.

Kani is suspected of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes including torture, persecution, cruel treatment and enforced disappearance after the country spiralled into sectarian violence.

A hearing to confirm the charges against Kani was provisionally scheduled for October 5, the court said in a statement.

Two other suspects of violence in the CAR are currently on trial at the ICC.

The ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Monday welcomed Kani’s arrest but said she remained very concerned about the CAR’s volatile situation.

The CAR announced a 15-day emergency last week as armed groups tried to blockade the capital Bangui in a bid to topple newly re-elected President Faustin Archange Touadera.