CAR hybrid court: an important test case

Like Chadian soldiers leave an African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) military camp in Bangui.
Thursday, May 7, 2015 - 08:57

By Sophie van Leeuwen

Patryk Labuda (32) is closely following justice issues in the Central African Republic (CAR), where a new hybrid court hopes to end impunity. A Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Labuda has worked in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan and South Sudan.

Q: Is a hybrid court the solution for the CAR crisis?

“I think it’s an interesting idea. I’m very curious to see what will happen. All we can say right now is that it’s promising and definitely worth exploring.”

Q: But what about the ICC mandate in the CAR?

“Good question. Why doesn't the International Criminal Court want to do the job itself? It has a mandate for every single international crime committed in the CAR. There are many unanswered questions.

“The ICC has a limited budget. That’s their usual justification for not investigating more. They argue they can only investigate one, two or three people in each situation country.

“Presumbly, the new special court in the CAR will have a great deal of money available for prosecutions. According to recent reports, the hybrid court will receive significant financial and logistical support from the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA. As far as I can tell, this has never happened before. Peacekeeping missions do not usually participate in criminal investigations.

“The biggest advantage of having a hybrid court is that more money and manpower should be available for criminal prosecutions.”

Q: Are there any risks of failure?

“The ICC has investigators on the ground. It’s the first hybrid court in a situation where the ICC is involved. So, in theory, there will be three levels of investigations: national, hybrid and ICC. This is a complicated idea, and a difficult project to coordinate.

“How will the ICC collaborate with hybrid mechanisms? It’s still vague. I know what kind of issues were raised in the DRC, where I worked earlier. A hybrid court was also discussed there. In the end, no special court was established, but I expect the special court in the CAR to face the same or similar issues with respect to cooperation.

“First of all, if the ICC wants to prosecute someone and the CAR authorities don’t want to prosecute the same person, it will create problems between the two levels. If the CAR authorities want to prosecute a person but the ICC does not trust them to do so impartially and refuses to share information, it will give rise to problems as well. These are hypothetical scenarios for now, but it is not hard to imagine such problems arising in the future.”

Q: How independent is the special court?

“It will, arguably, be more independent from political interference than the national courts. But let’s not forget, it will not be fully international. The majority of the staff will be Central African nationals, while a minority will be international.

“So the authorities in the CAR will not completely lose control of the prosecutorial process. They may be able to outvote their international counterparts on some key issues. It remains to be seen how this will play out.”

Q: Is the future of justice hybrid?

“This court has huge precedential value. Therefore it’s very important to get it right. If this court succeeds, it will be a model for other situations where the ICC operates alongside a hybrid mechanism. It is very important to make this work.

“So far, collaboration between the local authorities in the CAR and international actors has been remarkable. The speed with which this court has been planned is without precedent. The parliamentary bill establishing the hybrid court was drafted and adopted in the space of several months.

“However, we should wait to see how the situation evolves. If and when the court is finally established, it’s pretty clear that unforeseen difficulties will arise. It is probably too early to tell whether the future of justice is hybrid, but this is an important test case."

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