Today, a Central African Republican militia commander, Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona, was arrested by French authorities in Paris, pursuant to an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant. This follows the recent arrest of Alfred Yekatom, a.k.a. “Rambo”, on November 17 by Central African Republic (CAR) authorities and who is now in custody in The Hague. This series of arrests represents a glimmer of hope for the victims of CAR’s brutal war, and highlights the international court’s capacity to advance accountability.
Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona is wanted on suspicion of crimes against humanity and war crimes including murder, extermination, deportation, imprisonment, torture, persecution, pillage, and child soldier recruitment. His alleged criminal responsibility includes crimes committed in the western part of CAR between December 2013 and December 2014.
During that period, armed conflict in CAR was garnering international headlines. In March 2013, an alliance of several armed groups backed by Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries and dubbed the Séléka coalition overthrew the regime led by François Bozizé. During their nine-month hold on power, the Séléka chiefs became known for their predatory practices and serious human rights violations. On December 5, 2013, the UN Security Council gave France a green light to deploy under the moniker, Operation Sangaris. In the months that followed however, tens of thousands of Muslim families fled toward Chad and Cameroon. Christian and animist communities, forming anti-Balaka militias, led bloody reprisals. Fueled by their hatred and backed in part by Bozizé, the anti-Balaka militias claimed that Muslim populations were foreigners and guilty of complicity in crimes by Séléka forces.
As a former Minister of Sport under the Bozizé regime and president of the Central African Football Federation since 2008, Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona proclaimed himself coordinator of the anti-Balaka militias. In a Jeune Afrique article, a diplomat declared that Ngaissona was leading a faction that was well equipped, including officers from the CAR armed forces and former members of Bozizé’s presidential guard. In February 2014, a report published by the Federation Internationale des Droits de l’homme (FIDH) quoted an anti-Balaka who declared “they must all leave or die. We will eliminate them (the Muslims) all if they don’t leave immediately. That’s how it is”.
Since 2015, Ngaissona has distanced himself from Francois Bozizé. However, he continues to lead an anti-Balaka wing. (For details, see Enough Project’s 2017 graphic on CAR’s armed groups, and an updated and recent 2018 version.). His violent tactics were “rewarded” in February this year when Ngaissona was elected by the Executive Committee of the African Football Confederation (CAF) to represent CAR.
This arrest represents a crucial effort that sends a signal to criminals that use violence to obtain financial rewards and political benefits.