ICC convicts DRC’s Jean-Pierre Bemba of war crimes

Jean-Pierre Bemba

Jean-Pierre Bemba

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday found the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) former rebel commander, Jean-Pierre Bemba, 53 of war crimes ranging from rape to mass killings in neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) over a decade ago.

Bemba, who is the former Vice President of DRC and the overall commander of his rebel outfit Movement of the Liberation of Congo (MLC) had been facing charges of war crimes allegedly committed by his forces when he deployed them in CAR to suppress an attempted coup d’état  between 2002 and 2003.

The Hague-based court has ordered Bemba to stay in detention until he is sentenced but the ex-rebel commander’s legal team will file his appeal.

Monday’s ruling was hailed by ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. She said “While the reality of the crimes is appalling, the significance of this decision is to be celebrated, what this decision affirms is that commanders are responsible for the acts of the forces under their control.”

Bemba’s conviction marks the first time in the court’s history to convict a suspect of crimes committed by other people under his/her leadership and it is also the first time the ICC has highlighted rape as a weapon of war.

Throughout his 6-trial, Bemba had pleaded not guilty to all charges; his legal team contended that he didn’t have direct command Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) fighters.

Mr. Bemba was arrested in 2008 in the Belgian capital Brussels where he had been living since he fled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

He reportedly displayed no emotion as the unanimous ruling was being handed down. The Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner said that Bemba’s forces had committed “many acts of pillaging, rape and murder” against civilians in the Central African Republic. The Judge added that “Bemba both could and did issue operational orders,” and that Bemba knew that the MLC forces were committing or were about to commit the crimes.”