Smiles in Carnot
Along the road to our first meeting place in Carnot, we see houses, offices previously selling diamonds, and luxury vehicles, all crumbling. A reminder of the past times, life before conflict, when extraction and sale of diamonds were at the heart of Carnot’s economy.
Carnot is the third of the four towns we planned to visit during our three-week long mission. All four are on the list of locations where crimes have been allegedly committed in late 2013 and 2014, now part of the charges in the case of Alfred Yekatom and Patrice Ngaïssona. Two weeks ago we left Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, continued towards Boda and Berbérati, to reach Carnot, a little less than 100 kilometres to the north.
The electric generator is ready. It will allow us to use the necessary equipment for our first information session, scheduled for 10:00. It is 9:15, and we are still setting up projector, computer, speakers and microphones, but the large room of the town hall of Carnot is already full. The Mayor, the Sub-Prefect and the President of the Tribunal are present, but also people who have lost their loved ones and their homes.
All eyes are on us. We see many questions in these looks, and some doubts too.
After the mayor opens the session, rather than explaining what the court and its mandate are, we choose to listen. We invite residents to tell us what they know about the ICC and the Yekatom and Ngaïssona case. If necessary, we explain what is not clear.
Many questions are asked, especially about arrests. This highlights a need to clarify how the Court works: what happens after the arrest warrant is issued, or who collects the evidence; we also clarify the role of witnesses and victims in bringing out the truth and all this while avoiding the use of technical jargon specific to a legal professional.
More than acquiring information and understanding the judicial process, people in Carnot needed to participate in a dialogue. Questions on their faces faded gradually giving way to smiles.
This step in our mission has proven once again that continued outreach efforts are essential for the understanding of the proceedings before the ICC.
We start to feel tired after two weeks on the road. However, the team spirit and our determination remain intact before Yaloké, the last stop on our journey, five hours and 260 kilometres away.