A British man, locked in a crowded African jail cell with eighty other inmates, facing the death penalty for a crime he almost certainly did not commit: David Simpson’s on-going ordeal was always bound to catch the media’s attention.
And rightly so; for whatever people think of his exploits running a big-game hunting firm in the Central African Republic, there is no evidence that he was behind the brutal massacre of which he stands accused.
By all accounts it was the Yorkshire-man who found the eighteen victims, a mix of men, women and children, tied together in groups and seemingly killed with boiling water and machetes. Mr Simpson is reported to have led investigators to the site, where they photographed the horrific scene before promptly arresting him and taking him to the jail where he has been held for the past six weeks.
Fair Trials International has already condemned the arrest, hardly surprising considering the CAR’s well-established record of arbitrary detention and false charges, as noted by major human rights organisations. Yet perhaps even more disturbing than the gross injustice to befall Mr Simpson, are the likely actual perpetrators of the massacre and the government’s clear lack of interest in brining them to justice.
For the prime suspects are, in the eyes of most rational observers, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – the now widely known subjects of Invisible Children’s viral Kony 2012 campaign. And whilst Kony 2012 has generated copious amounts of cynicism and accusations of bandwagon jumping this latest massacre, if it is the work of the LRA, is a chilling indication of how serious a threat the organisation remains.
It would be just the latest in a series of LRA attacks on the Central African Republic’s soil, which have wrecked-havoc with the lives of civilians since March. Reports suggest that the LRA has experienced a recent surge in activity and may have splintered into a number of smaller groups. Ominously there are also reports of renewed support from Sudan, once a prominent backer that used the LRA as a proxy against the Ugandan state. Such assertions are far from certain, but as Omar Al-Bashir heads for war with the young South Sudanese state and its neighbours threaten to join the fray, the prospect of him re-kindling the old Khartoum-LRA alliance is certainly not of the table.
This would leave a continually dangerous and erratic rebel group, backed by a war-mongering government, butchering civilians in a state where the authorities would apparently rather take the erratic step of pinning the blame on a foreigner, than effectively dealing with the insurgency. David Simpson and the colleagues imprisoned with him should be given a fair trial based on adequate evidence or be immediately released….but even once that injustice is solved, the Central African Republic faces far bigger problems.