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Support to the Special Criminal Court in the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic established the Special Criminal Court (SCC or the Court) to investigate and try cases of serious human rights abuses between 2003 and the present day. The SCC, a hybrid institution, is composed of international and CAR national judges and lawyers. The Support to the CAR Special Criminal Court project was a two-year project from 2021 to 2023. It targeted the training of judges, lawyers, and clerk staff; improved collaboration and organization of the SCC and its staff and investigations into human rights abuse allegations; improved awareness of the Court among the general population; and the protection of victim and witness rights.

In 2023, ABA ROLI worked closely with the CAR government, courts, and local and international CSOs in drafting legislation to replicate the SCC’s internal protection mechanisms and standardize them for the protection of all witnesses and survivors before the lower courts. The legislation, still pending, is a major step in modernizing the ability of courts to effectively prosecute criminals through greater protection of needed witnesses.

Though the SCC has made major strides over the past year, including holding trials, the public perception of the Court remains mixed. To address this gap in confidence, ABA ROLI provided direct funding to a local community forum consisting of local human rights institutions to increase the awareness of the Court’s activities and the coordination and operational capacity of local CSOs.

CAR’s capacity for large-scale investigations of human rights abuses required a substantial investment in both the training of forensic investigators and the development of new tools and equipment. ABA successfully partnered with the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Spanish, El Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense - EAAF) to train SCC investigators and conduct investigations into abuses dating back years, and which required exhuming human remains.

Due to the hybrid nature of the Court, the effective coordination and cooperation of lawyers and judges has been critical to the Court’s effective operation. Both international and national actors have brought critical skills to the Court–such as knowledge of relevant international law and familiarity with the processes and people of CAR. To that end, ABA ROLI brought both groups of lawyers together for two multi-day trainings focused on advocating before the court; the use of international case law; and the internal procedures of the Court to ensure swift, effective, and complete application of international standards to cases before the SCC.