Judgment Day for Ex-DRC Vice President Jean Pierre Bemba Top story

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In short
Bemba was charged with five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed by his army; Movement for the Liberation of Congo in Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003 when Bembas rebels helped to put down a coup against Ange-Felix Patasse, the former president of the Central African Republic.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) will today deliver for its verdict in a case in which the former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Jean-Pierre Bemba is accused of murder, rape and pillaging.

Bemba was charged with five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed by his army; Movement for the Liberation of Congo in Central African Republic.

The alleged acts took place between October 2002 and March 2003 when Bemba's rebels helped to put down a coup against Ange-Felix Patasse, the former president of the Central African Republic.

During the hearing, the ICC trial chamber heard that Bemba's forces committed widespread rapes with complete impunity during the conflict, raped victims in front of their family members and sometimes forced one family member to rape another.

"Sons were sometimes forced to rape their mothers in front of their fathers. MLC troops raped wives in front of their husbands. They raped children in front of their parents," the trial chamber was told in one of its hearings. 

Bemba is the first ICC suspect to be prosecuted for alleged criminal responsibility as a military commander. The prosecutor alleges that he knew or should have known MLC combatants under his control were committing crimes, and that he failed to respond appropriately.

Visits made by Bemba to CAR during the MLC campaign, speeches mentioning war crimes to his troops, correspondences related to official reports on such crimes, and inadequate training of MLC troops were also presented as evidence of Bemba's effective command, of his knowledge of the crimes being committed, and of his failure to take responsible action.

The prosecution argued that the MLC had a well-defined chain of command, stressing the use of radio transmissions as a means for Bemba to maintain remote command from DRC.

Bemba pleaded not guilty to the charges.

His defense argued that former CAR president Ange-Felix Patassé had operational control over the MLC coalition in Central African Republic.

The defence further said that the perpetrators of the charged crimes were not Bemba's MLC combatants. The defence also argued that a conviction in the case would deter countries from offering military assistance to one another.

A statement issued by the ICC indicates that the verdict will be read out in public.

"While the Prosecution must prove the guilt of the accused, the Trial Chamber will convict the accused only if it is satisfied that the charges have been proven beyond reasonable doubt," the statement reads.

The Chamber is composed of Brazilian Judge Sylvia Steiner, Joyce Aluoch from Kenya and Kuniko Ozaki from Japan.

The trial in the Bemba case started on 22 November 2010 and the submission of evidence in the case was closed on 7 April 2014. Trial judges were presented with 733 items of evidence and heard testimony from 74 witnesses.

 

About the author

Sylvia Nankya
Sylvia is an Editor and Media Trainer with Uganda Radio Network. She has been a URN staff member since 2013. Sylvia has previously worked as a reporter and news anchor with Radio One (2001-2009) and with Vision Group (2009-2011). Six of her active years in Journalism were spent covering the Parliament of Uganda.

Over the past few years, Sylvia has worked to promote the positive development of societies recovering from conflict through training journalists on choices of stories, how they report issues and use of appropriate language in covering conflict and post-conflict situations.

She is an Alumni of RNTC- Holland, Les Aspin Centre for Government at Marquette University-WI, USA and a Community Solutions Fellow.