Defense lawyer for Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona, the ex-CAR football official has told the International Criminal Court, his client is a victim of a rush to justice by prosecutors.
On Tuesday, Ngaissona pleaded not guilty to war crimes charges. According to his laywer, Ngaissona used football to foster peace and unity in his country. Geert-Jan Knoops told Judges that Ngaissona had no role to play in anti-muslim atrocities.
"Mr. President, your Honors, this case is about the human being person, Mr. Patrice Ngaissona whose endeavor in life was to bring peace and unity in this country to reunite his people. A person who was refusing to use violence was refusing to use military means to achieve this goal. This is our defense case", he said.
Ngaissona and his co-defendant, Alfred Yekatom, are being accused of playing a leading role in a predominantly Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka in a bitter fight with mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group and its perceived supporters in 2013 and 2014. The violence that ensued led to thousands of deaths, and forced hundreds more to flee.
Defense lawyers for Yekatom will not make their opening statement when they begin to present their evidence, which is likely to be months away as prosecutors have said they will call witnesses, including victims, experts and ‘’insiders’’ to testify at the trial.
Both men face maximum sentences of life imprisonment if convicted.