ICC-convicts-Congolese-warlord-Bemba-on-war-crimes. THE HAGUE, Netherlands, The International Criminal Court on Monday convicted former Congolese leader Jean-Pierre Bemba of war crimes for rape, pillage and murder in the Central African Republic.
The landmark six-year trial was the first to focus on rape as a war crime. The former Democratic Republic of Congo vice president was convicted of three charges of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity.
Bemba was accused of failing to stop his Movement for the Liberation of Congo fighters from conducting hundreds of rapes and murders in neighboring Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003 as he sent in over 1,000 troops to suppress an attempted government coup.
“The civilian population was the primary as opposed to incidental target,” presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner said in pronouncing the conviction.
She also read a list of specific crimes committed by Bemba’s troops, which included the rape of one victim by 12 soldiers; the rape of a 10-year-old girl by a soldier; and a man held at gunpoint who was raped after soldiers also raped his wife.
Steiner acknowledged Bemba spent the time across the border in the DRC but noted, “Bemba both could and did issue operational orders. Bemba knew that the MLC forces were committing or were about to commit the crimes.”
Bemba, who was arrested in 2008, is the highest-ranking official convicted by the court. His lawyers argued that his troops, once over the border, were no longer under his command. He showed no emotion when the unanimous verdict was read Monday.
The trial’s focus was on whether a leader can be held liable for crimes committed by those under his control.
“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 troops inflicted terrible crimes. To this day men, women and children who survived are still haunted by the horror of what happened to them,” commented prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
With his conviction, Bemba joins Congolese warlords Germain Katanga and Thomas Lubanga as the only people convicted by the ICC since its 2002 founding. He will remain in custody until his sentence is announced.
By Ed Adamczyk