UN-backed court issues warrant for Central African ex-leader

Former President François Bozizé speaks during a rally in Bangui, Central African Republic, on November 24 2020. [AFP]

A UN-backed court on Tuesday announced it had issued an arrest warrant for the Central African Republic's former president Francois Bozize over possible crimes against humanity committed by the military between 2009 and 2013.

The alleged crimes include murder, enforced disappearance, torture, rape and other inhumane acts, according to the Special Criminal Court (CPS), a hybrid jurisdiction located in the capital Bangui with Central African and foreign magistrates.

Bozize, 77, seized power in Central Africa in 2003 in a coup before being overthrown 10 years later. He now heads the country's main rebellion and has been in exile in Guinea-Bissau since March 2023.

The international warrant was issued on February 27, according to CPS, which was set up in 2015 with UN sponsorship. The CPS is calling for Guinea-Bissau's cooperation to "arrest" and "hand over the suspect".

The court is in charge of investigating war crimes committed since 2003 in the country, which has endured civil wars and authoritarian regimes since independence from France in 1960.

The court's magistrates are probing possible "crimes against humanity" committed by Bozize's presidential guard between February 2009 and March 2013 at a civilian prison and at a military training facility in the central town of Bossembele.

The judges concluded that there was "serious and consistent evidence against (Bozize), likely to incur his criminal liability, in his capacity as hierarchical superior and military leader".

Amnesty International said in a statement that the warrant "constitutes an encouraging step in the quest for justice for the victims of numerous crimes committed in the central African Republic." It called on Guinea-Bissau to turn Bozize over "without delay" to the Central African authorities.

Civilian massacres

A civil war has plagued the former French colony since a Muslim-dominated armed coalition, Seleka, ousted Bozize in 2013.

Bozize set-up militias dominated by Christians and animists, known as anti-Balakas, to regain power.

Thousands of civilians were killed and both sides have been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the United Nations.

The conflict lost intensity after 2018, but the country still suffers bouts of violence and remains deeply poor.

Bozize leads a new alliance of rebel groups called the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), formed in December 2020 in a bid to overthrow his successor, Faustin Archange Touadera.

But Touadera brought in fighters from Russia's Wagner mercenary group and Russian operatives to push them away from Bangui.

Bozize was sentenced in absentia in September to forced labour for life for conspiracy, rebellion and murder.