A new court in Central African Republic established to investigate serious violations of human rights and alleged war crimes in the conflict-scathed country, held its inaugural session this week.

The Special Criminal Court, passed by law in 2015, will now officially begin investigations into some of the most serious crimes against humanity committed in the country since January 2003.

Comprised of local and international staff and backed by the United Nations, the creation of the SCC is a vital and welcomed move for a country locked in conflict for much of its recent history.

The latest conflict erupted in 2012 after militia overthrew president François Bozizé, and the power grab sparked deadly violence among the mainly Muslim Séléka armed groups and the predominantly Christian anti-balaka militias, as well as others.

The ensuing civil war has killed thousands and displaced more than 700,000. It is estimated that more than 14,000 children have bene recruited by its various warring parties. According to the UN’s latest Children and Armed Conflict report, verified cases of child recruitment quadrupled in 2017 compared to 2016.

The ongoing nature of violence in the CAR, like many global conflicts, has led to a breakdown of government frameworks and institutions meaning holding those accountable for child recruitment, sexual abuse, murder and other heinous crimes is a near impossible task.

And while the International Criminal Court has tried several individuals on charges of child recruitment – the ongoing trial of former LRA commander Dominic Ongwen is one notable example – no one from CAR has ever been arrested and tried at The Hague.

It is why the commencement of proceedings at the SCC is such an important step and a brave move in a country where 80% of the territory is still believed to be under armed group control.

The SCC can play a significant role in ending the impunity which has long-reigned in the country and its formation shows a rejection of past amnesties afforded to criminal acts.

Based in Bangui and with many national judges and prosecutors involved, the SCC is not only well-placed to prosecute those found guilty under international legal standards but also to encourage national and locally adapted reconciliation processes.

In a statement on 26 October, the UN Human Rights office said: “The credibility and legitimacy of prosecution initiatives require that they be conducted in a non-discriminatory and objective manner, regardless of who the alleged perpetrators may be.

“We therefore commend ongoing efforts by the SCC, with the support of the State and interested partners, to seek to reinforce or develop the national and international capacity for investigation and prosecution, as well as to promote an independent, impartial and effective judiciary, ensuring also the means to mount adequate legal defence.”

In such a challenging environment where violence persists and many of its citizens live in fear of further unrest and attacks, the SCC may offer a glimmer of hope for the thousands of victims in CAR.

Read about Child Soldiers International's work in CAR here