Alleged Central African Republic rebel goes on trial at ICC
An alleged senior leader of a predominantly Muslim rebel group that ousted the president of Central African Republic in 2013 pleaded not guilty on Monday to seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
A court spokesman said the opening of the trial of Mahamat Said marked the end of a long wait for justice for victims in the mineral-rich but impoverished Central African Republic.
The country's people “have been already waiting a long period of time. It is almost nine years now'', to see a member of the Seleka rebel group stand trial at the global court, spokesman Fadi El Abdallah told The Associated Press.
After a court officer read out charges including torture, unlawful imprisonment and persecution, Said told a three-judge panel: “I have listened to everything and I am pleading not guilty.” Said, 52, is accused of running a detention centre in the capital, Bangui, called the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry, from April to August 2013 where he and dozens of Seleka rebels allegedly held prisoners perceived as supporters of ex-President Francois Bozize in inhumane conditions and subjected them to torture and brutal interrogations including whipping and beating them with truncheons and rifle butts.
He said that Said was “not a passive spectator'' but an active participant in crimes, hunting down civilians and bringing them to the detention centre “knowing exactly what he had planned for them, what a nightmare awaited them under his control and custody”.
Defence lawyers are scheduled to make an opening statement after the prosecutors have finished.
The Hague-based court has also detained two alleged commanders of the anti-Balaka, Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, who are standing trial together.
“For 10 horrendous months, the Seleka ruled Bangui,'' Khan said. ''To say they governed would be an abuse of the English language. They ruled by diktat, by fear, by terror.” Khan said the name of the detention center was a misnomer.
“This was no office to repress banditry. This was no location to assess any criminal conduct,'' he said. ''This was a torture centre designed as such to spread terror, hardship and pain.” He told judges that witnesses in the case would include survivors and witnesses of torture including “insider” witnesses who worked with Said.
Khan showed a photo of a young man who was trussed up in a method of torture used at the camp. The image showed deep lacerations in the man's arms.
“Years later, it is all too apparent. Marked for life because the prosecution allege Mr. Said did not intervene, did not protect, did not lift a little finger or use any iota of his authority to alleviate their suffering. Rather, he deliberately exacerbated it in any way he could.”
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