February 16 – The former head of the Central African Republic football federation, Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona (pictured), has pleaded not guilty to war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Ngaïssona and Alfred Yekatom, a rebel leader known as Rambo, are both 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 as the country erupted into civil war.
Ngaïssona was arrested in November 2018, just 10 months after being elected to the Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) executive committee with the support and lobbying of now-disgraced CAF president Ahmad Ahmad.
Almost a year later FIFA banned him for six years and eight months. In their written ruling at the time, FIFA judges cited a number of war crimes including summary executions, torture, mutilation, sexual offences and destruction of mosques.
Ngaissona was president of the Central African Republic’s FA for more than a decade and his trial will heap even more ignominy on Ahmad in his effort to try and squeeze through the back door to stand again next month as CAF president.
“I do not recognize myself in the charges brought against me. I am not guilty,” Ngaïssona, who is also a former sports minister of his country, told Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt.
But prosecutors said at a preliminary hearing back in September 2019 that the two men had waged a “campaign of violence and terror” against Muslims.
“Muslims were seen as traitors, collaborators, foreigners… (the anti-Balaka) burned down their mosques, targeted their schools and houses, they murdered, they raped women and children,” prosecutor Kweku Vanderpuye said at the time.
According to the group Human Rights Watch, Ngaissona and Yekatom 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, HRM’s associate international justice director.
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