By: Christina Bradic, Impunity Watch News Staff Writer
The Hague, Netherlands – On October 16, 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) dropped war crime charges against Maxime Jeoffroy Eli Mokom Gawaka, of the Central African Republic. This is only the third time in the history of the court that an ICC prosecutor has dropped a criminal case.
On March 14, 2022, Mokom was arrested in Chad. Authorities subsequently surrendered him to the ICC. Prior to dropping his case, Mokom was facing twenty charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from actions in 2013 and 2014 when Mokom was the National Coordinator of Operations of the Anti-Balaka. Charges included murder, torture, extermination, deportation, and persecution.
In the Central African Republic in 2013, President Francois Bozize was ousted during a coup led by Seleka, an alliance of predominantly Muslim armed rebel groups. In response, Anti-Balaka, an alliance of predominantly Christian militia groups, executed reprisal attacks, including ones targeting Muslim civilians. Violence between the two groups escalated. By mid-May of 2014, it was estimated that thousands of people were killed and more than 750,000 people, majority Muslim, were forcibly displaced. During this time, Mokom, as a leader of Anti-Balaka, was suspected of the war crimes of directing attacks on civilian populations, an attack on humanitarian assistance personnel, and enlisting children as fighters.
The Prosecutor of the ICC informed the judge last week that with the available evidence and changed witness and testimonial availability, there is no longer “reasonable prospect of conviction.”
Mokom has continually denied the court’s charges and any involvement in attacks on Muslim civilians. In a statement he said that he is, “dedicated to the search for peace.” He also holds that he was a refugee in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a significant portion of the period during which the charges occurred. The defense team is considering asking for compensation for the 19 months during which Mokom was held in the court’s detention facility in Scheveningen, The Hague, Netherlands.
A lawyer representing the victims expressed disappointment, calling this outcome, “unfair and a betrayal,” and stating that victims were, “sad and immensely disappointed.” The case prosecutor said in a statement, “I am very conscious that this news may be unwelcome to many survivors and their families, [and] I hope many will understand my legal and ethical responsibilities to be guided by the law and the evidence.”
The action to withdraw charges was without prejudice, allowing a new trial if additional witnesses or evidence becomes available in relation to crimes under the court’s jurisdiction.
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