On Jan. 22, a court in the Central African Republic convicted and sentenced a former warlord and leader of the anti-Balaka militia, Rodrigue Ngaibona, to life in prison. Human rights groups described it as a first in the war-torn nation and a “decisive first step” in delivering justice for crimes committed during the violence that has gripped the country for the past five years. In an email interview, Elise Keppler, the associate director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, and Lewis Mudge, a senior researcher in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch focusing on the Central African Republic, discuss the conviction, the state of the country’s fledgling Special Criminal Court and the level of political will to seek justice.
WPR: What is the significance of the conviction of Ngaibona, known as “General Andjilo,” and what does it say about the capacity of Central African courts to prosecute war criminals?
Elise Keppler and Lewis Mudge: Andjilo was one of the most powerful and feared anti-Balaka leaders in the country. His conviction by the Bangui Criminal Court marks an important moment for the Central African Republic, as he is the first person held accountable for crimes that were committed in the country after late 2012, when the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebel groups launched a campaign to overthrow the central government and plunged the country into violent conflict. Andjilo was found guilty of crimes that included murder, aggravated theft and the illegal possession of arms.