Two men accused of leading Christian-dominated militias in widespread attacks on Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR) go on trial on Tuesday at the International Criminal Court.
Prosecutors say that Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona, a former top African football executive, was a senior leader and national coordinator of the so-called anti-Balaka militias in 2013 and 2014.
Ngaissona, 53, has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, persecution and torture.
Co-accused Alfred Yekatom, 46, a former militia commander also known as “Rambo”, faces similar charges to Ngaissona with additional counts for his alleged use of child soldiers.
Both men have said they are innocent.
The Central African Republic has been mired in violence since a coalition of mostly northern and predominantly Muslim rebels known as Seleka, or “alliance” in the Sango language, seized power in March 2013. Their brutal rule gave rise to the opposing “anti-Balaka” Christian militias.
After initial criticism that its investigation into the CAR was one-sided, with only anti-Balaka leaders in the dock, the ICC in January announced it had detained alleged Seleka leader Mahamat Said Abdel Kain.
The trial starts against a backdrop of fighting between the CAR army, backed by United Nations, Russian and Rwandan troops, and rebels from both militia groups who have now formed an alliance with the aim of seizing the capital and overturning a December 27 vote in which President Faustin-Archange Touadera was declared the winner.
On February 5, the CAR government extended a state of emergency for six months amid the continuing hostilities.
Ngaissona was detained in December 2018 while in France on official business, his lawyer told judges at the time. A French court approved his extradition on December 31.
Ngaissona was controversially elected in 2018 as top executive of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the game’s governing body in Africa, but is no longer listed as a member on the CAF website.