ICC drops war crimes charges against former Central African Republic government minister

ICC drops war crimes charges against former Central African Republic government minister

THE HAGUE, Nethlerlands (AP): The International Criminal Court announced Thursday it was dropping some 20 charges including murder, extermination, deportation, torture, and persecution against a former government minister from the Central African Republic, citing a lack of evidence and available witnesses.

Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor at the court based in The Hague in the Netherlands, issued a statement saying he was withdrawing all charges against Maxime Jeoffroy Eli Mokom Gawaka because there were “no longer any reasonable prospects of conviction at trial.”

Mokom, 44, was accused of coordinating operations of the anti-Balaka, a mainly Christian group that fought against the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebel group. The fighting left thousands dead and displaced hundreds of thousands in 2013 and 2014.

During a pretrial hearing in August, Mokom’s defense team told judges that prosecutors had already uncovered evidence that could exonerate Mokom, even before his arrest in neighboring Chad in 2022.

Mokom and his attorneys were unaware the prosecutor was considering dropping the charges. “This took us completely by surprise,” lawyer Philippe Larochelle told the Associated Press.

Khan said he was aware that survivors and their families would likely be disappointed by the news. “I hope many will understand my legal and ethical responsibilities to be guided by the law and the evidence,” he said in his statement.

Mokom is the fourth suspect from the long-running conflict in the mineral-rich but impoverished nation to appear before judges at the global court.

Violence has plagued the Central African Republic since 2013, when Seleka rebels forced then-President Francois Bozize from office. Militias known as anti-Balaka later fought back, also targeting civilians and sending most of the Muslim residents of the capital, Bangui, fleeing in fear.

It is the third time an ICC prosecutor has dropped a case in the court’s 25-year history. Ten years ago, an investigation into post-election violence in Kenya fell apart amid allegations of witness interference. Khan’s predecessor, Fatou Bensouda, withdrew charges against the country’s former President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2015 and another top official in 2013 after accusing Kenya of obstructing the investigation.

In 2022, Bensouda charged Paul Gicheru, a lawyer for another Kenya official involved in the case, with witness tampering. Gicheru died under suspicious circumstances later that year.

Mokom has now spent 19 months at the court’s detention facility in Scheveningen and it is unclear when he will be released. His defense team is considering whether to bring a request for compensation against the court.