Central African Republic war crimes suspect ‘Rambo’ was tortured, says lawyer

Members of the armed forces arrest Central African MP Alfred Yekatom aka "Rambo" (C), who represents the southern M'baiki district former militia leader, after he fired the gun at the parliament in Bangui on October 29, 2018. - A lawmaker fired into the air in the Central African Republic's parliament on October 29, 2018 after an altercation with a colleague as MPs prepared to vote for a new speaker. (Photo by Gael GRILHOT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GAEL GRILHOT/AFP/Getty Images)

A former militia leader from the Central African Republic known as “Colonel Rambo” was tortured in detention before his transfer to The Hague on war crimes charges, his lawyer said Friday.

Members of the armed forces arrest Central African MP Alfred Yekatom aka “Rambo” (C) (Photo by Gael GRILHOT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GAEL GRILHOT/AFP/Getty Images)

The arrest of Alfred Yekatom, who made his first appearance at the International Criminal Court since his extradition, was “brutal” and he was later beaten with rifle butts, his defence said.

Yekatom, 43, was arrested in October in Bangui and sent on Saturday to the Netherlands for his role in bloody unrest in the CAR pitting Christian and Muslim groups against each other since 2013.

“The arrest was, according to him, brutal,” lawyer Xavier-Jean Keita told the court.

“He was tortured, he says, he was beaten with Kalashnikovs and rifle butts, and he still has visible signs of the beating,” the lawyer added.

“The medical team at the ICC detention centre has observed this.”

An elected MP since 2016, Yekatom was arrested after he drew his gun and fired into the air in the parliament in Bangui, the capital, during an altercation late last month.

He faces 14 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, mutilation, torture, cruel treatment and recruiting child soldiers into his so-called anti-Balaka militia group.

The group is accused of attacks on Muslims between December 2013 and August 2014.

Yekatom said the first he had known about the war crimes charges was when he arrived in The Hague.

“No one said anything to me, I was at parliament and there was a bit of trouble there. Then they arrested me and sent me here,” the ex-fighter, wearing a suit and listening to a translation of the proceedings on headphones, told the court.

“When I got here on Sunday I was given some documents and I read the charges. No one said anything to me there, it was only here that I was told.

Yekatom had been in prosecutors’ sights since 2015 for “engaging in or providing support for acts that undermine the peace, stability or security in the CAR”, his ICC arrest warrant said.

Yekatom was wanted in particular for leading an attack in Bangui on December 5, 2013, when his group armed with guns, grenades and machetes, attacked Muslims in Boeing district, killing between six to 13 civilians.

The group then moved to another location where four Muslims were killed, prosecutors said.

The arrest warrant said the shooting incident in parliament showed “that he resorts to violent acts” and that his arrest was necessary “to prevent him from committing further crimes within the jurisdiction of the court.”

The judge said he could not immediately deal with the allegations of torture.

“You have raised a very important problem and we cannot deal with it orally. We have to have written submissions, at this stage we cannot discuss this question, nor resolve it.”