Jean-Pierre Bemba, was found guilty of war crime related to the conflict in the Central African Republic between October 26, 2002 and March 15, 2003.
By Journalists For Justice
A glum-looking Jean-Pierre Bemba sat pensively behind his lawyers at the International Criminal Court at The Hague in Netherlands, as the presiding judge read the unanimous decision of guilt for war crimes. Mr Bemba was found guilty of murder, rape and pillaging committed by his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) troops in the Central African Republic. He is the first person to be charged at the ICC with command responsibility under article 28 of the Rome Statute.
“Mr Bemba failed to take all the necessary measures to prevent his subordinates from committing criminal acts against civilians,” said the judges, who added that his failure to exercise control over his troops despite having effective authority, and his refusal to act on reports by punishing perpetrators and remedying illegal practices through training meant that he condoned the actions of his troops.
ICC judges Silvia Steiner (Brazil), Joyce Aluoch (Kenya) and Kuniko Ozaki (Japan) heard the case for 230 days, listening to 77 witnesses– 40 from the prosecution, 34 for the defence, two from the Legal Representative for Victims and one summoned by the judges – and made 277 decisions.
Mr Bemba – a former personal assistant to Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and Vice President of the renamed Democratic Republic of Congo – sent his Banyamulenge militia (under the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo) to shore up the regime of Central African Republic dictator Ange Felix Patasse in October 2002. Sitting expressionlessly for most of the one hour and 16 minutes it took to read the decision, the 53-year-old would occasionally shake his earphones-strapped head in in disagreement when the judge read out the litany of testimonies of gang-rape of men, women and children, murder and pillaging. Prosecutors said Bemba knew that the troops were committing crimes and did not take all necessary and reasonable measures within his power to prevent or repress their commission”.
He was arrested in Belgium on May 24, 2008 and surrendered to the ICC at The Hague on June 3, 2008. His confirmation of charges hearing was held on June 15. The Bemba decision is the first time the ICC has taken note of crimes of a sexual nature in war situations. More than 5,000 victims were granted the right to participate in the hearings – the highest number in any of the cases before the ICC.
The judges will make a decision on reparations in due course. The court froze Mr Bemba’s assets when he was arrested in 2010. During the trial, which lasted between November 23, 2010 and April 2014, defence lawyers obtained a decision to suspend proceedings. Mr Bemba and two of his lawyers are separately charged with witness interference case, which is ongoing.