A Special Criminal Court with jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) since 2003 has delivered its first verdict. The court was established in 2015 with the assistance of the United Nations and is staffed by both national and international prosecutors and judges. In this case, three members of an armed group called Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation (3R) had been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for their role in killings and other atrocities committed in May 2019. These atrocities took place in the context of a series of diffuse conflicts across the country. 3R has controlled territory in the north-west since 2016. Two of the defendants were found guilty of “murder, inhumane acts and humiliating and degrading treatment,” and sentenced to 20 years in prison, while the more senior defendant was additionally found to be culpable for rapes committed by his subordinates and sentenced to life in prison. The defendants have appealed the verdict.
Following the Constitutional Court’s annulment of presidential decrees to establish a constitutional reform process in September, inter-branch conflict in the Central African Republic escalated in October. By law, justices of the Constitutional Court cannot be removed during their term unless they suffer a “definitive incapacity.” Chief Justice Danièle Darlan was appointed to fill one of the constitutionally defined seats on the court for members of a faculty of law. The government therefore sought to force her off the Court by issuing a decree to lower the retirement age for university faculty, thus requiring her to retire from the law faculty at the University of Bangui. The government decreed on 25 October that the appointments of Chief Justice Danièle Darlan and Justice Trinité Bango Sangafio were annulled because of a “definitive incapacity.” In a letter to the President, Darlan has argued that her removal from the Court contravenes the constitution.
President Touadéra initiated a process for constitutional revision in August and appointed a committee to draft changes to the constitution. This followed a “Republican Dialogue” convened by the governing party in March. The most politically relevant proposal was to remove the term limit for the president, allowing President Touadéra to run for a third term. Another proposal would make the president an ex oficio member of the Constitutional Court. As some of the changes touch upon articles of the constitution that are unamendable, the government’s chosen process would repeal the current constitution and replace it with a new one. Opposition parties filed a petition at the Constitutional Court challenging the legality of the presidential decrees that initiated the constitutional reform process. On 23 September the Court ruled that the process was not in conformity with the constitutional requirements for amendment processes and annulled the presidential decrees.