Congolese ex-vice president found guilty of war crimes
Former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, has been found guilty of war crimes committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) in a trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
On Monday, the ICC judges found Bemba guilty on several charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, saying he had retained “effective command and control” over 1,500 rebels he sent to the neighboring country to quell an attempted coup against the then CAR president, Ange-Felix Patasse.
According to Sylvia Steiner, the ICC’s presiding judge, his troops “knowingly and intentionally” went on a rampage of rapes, killings and pillage in CAR villages.
“Bemba, who served as vice president from 2003 to 2006, failed to discipline or restrain his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers as they rampaged through the neighboring country in 2002 and 2003,” Steiner said.
In response to the ruling, his defense lawyers argued Bemba had no control over his troops at the time, saying, “There is not a single documentary piece of evidence that shows any orders passing from Bemba and going to his troops in the Central African Republic.”
Over 5,000 victims were granted the right to participate in the hearings, the highest number in any of the cases before the ICC.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International hailed the guilty verdict against Bemba as a “historic moment in the battle for justice” for victims of sexual violence in the CAR and around the world.
In 2006, Bemba fled his country after losing a run-off presidential election to President Joseph Kabila. The former rebel leader was arrested in Belgium in 2008 and handed over to the ICC’s detention center in The Hague.
The presiding judge ordered that 53-year-old be held in custody until sentencing at a later date. He is expected to appeal his conviction.
He could face up to 30 years in jail, or even a life sentence.