21 March 2016

Congo-Kinshasa: Congo's Former Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba Guilty of War Crimes

Former Congolese rebel warlord and vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba appears before the global war crimes court in the Hague January 12, 2009.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has found Bemba guilty of committing atrocities against civilians in the Central African Republic. Bemba's troops raped, murdered and pillaged villages in the neighboring country.

Judges at the ICC found Bemba guilty on all five counts of war crimes against humanity.

Presiding judge Sylvia Steiner said the former leader was "criminally responsible" for letting troops belonging to the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) rampage across the neighboring country.

MLC troops, commanded by Bemba, raped, murdered and pillaged in CAR from October 2002 to March 2003. The operation was conducted in support of Ange-Felix Patasse, the CAR's president at the time.

Judges said the former Congolese leader failed to discipline his army despite knowing they were committing crimes, including the rape of girls as young as 10. "Mr. Bemba effectively acted as military commander and had effective command and control over the MLC forces," Steiner said.

"MLC soldiers by force knowingly and intentionally invaded the bodies of victims," Steiner read out from a judgment that graphically described the rapes carried out by Bemba's soldiers. The troops also pillaged villages to supplement their meager incomes, she added.

The case against Bemba, the highest-ranked person to be convicted by the ICC so far, is the first in which the ICC has held a military commander directly responsible for the crimes of his subordinates. The trial is also the first to focus extensively on acts of sexual violence committed during war.

The Congolese leader has denied all accusations and is expected to appeal his conviction. He is to be held in custody until the sentence is announced at a later date.

mg/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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