(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Government seeks to block France from trying minister

[Congo] President Denis Sassou-Nguesso.
Roberto Ortiz de Zarate

The government of the Republic of Congo (ROC) filed a petition on Monday before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) seeking to prevent France from trying ROC Interior Minister Pierre Oba for crimes against humanity and torture.

France had no right to exercise its authority on the territory of ROC, which was an equal sovereign state, an ICJ statement quoted the petition as saying. Moreover, a warrant issued instructing police to examine the ROC President Denis Sassou-Nguesso as a witness violated the "criminal immunity of a foreign head of state".

The case against several key members of the ROC government was brought in December 2001 by a French-based human rights body, the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues. The procedure named Sassou-Nguesso, Republican Guard commander Blaise Adoua, and Army Inspector-General Norbert Dabira, among others.

The allegations stem from May 1999, when thousands of Congolese who had fled fighting in ROC chose to return to the capital, Brazzaville, taking advantage of a "humanitarian corridor" established by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Numerous sources at the time reported the "disappearance" of over 350 of the returnees.

The ROC government had asked the ICJ to annul all investigation and prosecution efforts made by France and sought to establish the ICJ's jurisdiction in the case. No action would be taken, however, "unless and until France consents to the Court's jurisdiction in the case", the ICJ added.

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