A group of UN-mandated investigators launch a probe on Monday of human right violations in the conflict-ravaged Central African Republic amid fears of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
The three international investigators will spend two weeks travelling the country, speaking with victims, witnesses, and actors in the conflict, and expect to draw up a list of suspected perpetrators.
"We have to put an end to the impunity," said Bernard Acho Muna, head of an international commission of inquiry appointed by UN leader Ban Ki-moon in January.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva before leaving for Bangui, the Cameroon Supreme Court lawyer and former deputy chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for Rwanda said he hoped his mission could help ward off a feared genocide.
"We are hoping that our presence and the investigations we are doing will be a signal [that will prevent] the people who are making this hate propaganda [from moving] to action," he said.
The Central African Republic has been torn apart by bloody sectarian clashes since the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted president François Bozizé in March 2013 and replaced him with their leader Michel Djotodia, who was himself forced out in January.
Violence has continued unabated since then, as mostly Christian anti-balaka vigilantes have taken their revenge. Muna said on Monday the "hate propaganda" on the ground was reminiscent of his time working with Rwanda, where a 1994 genocide left an estimated 800 000 people dead in the space of a few months.
"Genocide starts always with propaganda, convincing the population that this group of people are evil, they are bad, they should be eliminated," he said.
In the Central African Republic, he said, the messages of hate could be surfacing due to the complete lawlessness on the ground. "I hope that this is only noise and that when you can put the troops on the ground and law and order, this might disappear," he said.
If the international community shows it is ready to "take a firm stand to prosecute people who are already making hate propaganda and promoting indiscriminate tribal killings … I think it can be stopped. I really think so," he said.
Muna, along with his fellow investigators Jorge Castaneda, a former Mexican foreign secretary, and Fatimata M'Baye, a lawyer and leading Mauritanian human rights activist, is set to arrive in Bangui on Tuesday.
They will spend about three days in the capital before travelling to the interior of the country.
During the two-week trip, they aim to speak with all different actors in the conflict, as well as victims and witnesses to crimes to get a better idea of the situation, Muna said.
They are set to present an initial report to the UN Security Council in New York in June, and a final report six months later. "We hope we will be able to advise the Security Council on what to do," Muna said, adding that the reports might contain lists of suspected perpetrators for use in possible future prosecution. – AFP