The trial is the first at the global court that focuses on the violence that erupted after the Seleka seized power in the Central African Republic in 2013, forcing President Francois Bozize into exile.
Prosecution lawyer Kweku Vanderpuye told the three-judge panel that 150 prosecution witnesses, including victims, experts and “insiders” will testify at the trial and prove the defendants' guilt “beyond reasonable doubt.”
Ngaissona helped mobilize, arm and finance diverse groups into the anti-Balaka movement intended to restore Bozize to power and mete out “payback” knowing that it would target the Muslim population of western Central African Republic, Vanderpuye said.
“He knew the vengeance within them and he knew that they intended to and would commit the multiple acts and crimes” charged in the indictment. He said Yekatom “prepared, planned and led them in crimes as a key part of the anti-Balaka's widespread attack.”
The process began against a backdrop of ongoing violence in the African nation despite a two-year-old peace deal. Fighting erupted again after the constitutional court rejected Bozize's candidacy for December's presidential election. A coalition of the six strongest militias backing Bozize seeks to overturn results of the election in which Faustin-Archange Touadera won a second term.
The mineral-rich nation faces an increasingly dire humanitarian crisis, with some 200,000 people fleeing their homes in less than two months, according to the United Nations.
“A justice void has fueled repeated violence in the Central African Republic, with a new wave of attacks in just the past two months. Fair, credible trials of atrocities are key for the country to break these cycles,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch.
Ngaïssona was president of the country's soccer body for more than a decade from 2008. The sport’s international governing body, FIFA, banned him from the sport for six years and eight months in November 2019 following his arrest and publication of allegations against him.
Yekatom was surrendered to the ICC in November 2018 after being arrested for firing a gun in parliament. Ngaïssona was detained a month later in France.
The Central African Republic government asked the ICC in May 2014 to investigate crimes allegedly committed by both the Seleka and the anti-Balaka. Last month, the first alleged Seleka rebel arrested on an ICC warrant was handed to the court.
Vanderpuye said the trial “is not about an indictment of one side or another side of the conflict. There’s tragedy enough to go all around.”
FILE - In this Friday Nov. 23, 2018 file photo, Alfred Yekatom, center, a Central African Republic lawmaker and militia leader who goes by the nickname Rambo, appears before the International Criminal Court, ICC, in The Hague, Netherlands. The former head of the Central African Republic's soccer federation and an alleged rebel commander known as Rambo are going on trial Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021 at the International Criminal Court charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Former soccer official Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona and Alfred Yekatom are accused of involvement in atrocities including murder, torture and attacking civilians in their roles as senior leaders in a predominantly Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka. (Piroschka van de Wouw, pool photo via AP, file)
Credit: Piroschka van de Wouw
Credit: Piroschka van de Wouw