The former head of the Central African Republic’s soccer federation and an alleged rebel commander known as Rambo are going on trial Tuesday at the International Criminal Court, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Former soccer officials Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona and Alfred Yekatom are accused of involvement in atrocities including murder, torture and attacking civilians. The charges stem from their roles as senior leaders in a predominantly Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka that engaged in bitter fighting with the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group in 2013 and 2014.
The interreligious violence left thousands dead and displaced hundreds of thousands. Mosques, shops and homes were looted and destroyed.
Ngaissona and Yekatom, 46, are the “highest-ranking anti-Balaka leaders to face trial, and the first at the ICC.
“The opening of the Yekatom and Ngaissona trial is a milestone for justice for victims of brutal crimes”, said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch.
The two men face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, torture, mutilation, persecution and the conscription of child soldiers from 2013 to 2014.
Ngaissona also faces charges of rape and attempted rape.
According to prosecutors, Ngaissona was an influential leader of the anti-Balaka group and Yekatom a military leader who commanded thousands of fighters drawn from among local self-defense groups.
Ngaissona was arrested in France in December 2018 and then extradited to the Hague. At the time he was head of the CAR football association and board member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
He was a key supporter of Bozize, whose ousting after a decade in power sparked vicious intercommunal fighting. He rose to become the “national general coordinator” of the anti-Balaka movement, prosecutors said.
FIFA has banned him from football for six years after finding him guilty of charges including “discrimination and of failing to protect, respect or safeguard integrity and human dignity” related to the CAR conflict.
Yekatom was surrendered to the ICC in November 2018 after being arrested for firing a gun in parliament.
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.