Tuesday, November 23, 2010

War Crimes: Trial of former DR Congo leader begins

UN - The International Criminal Court (ICC) today began the trial of former Congolese leader Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, who stands accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) between 2002 and 2003.

In 2009, judges at The Hague-based ICC found that Mr. Bemba, the leader of the Mouvement de libération du Congo (MLC), had the “necessary criminal intent” when he ordered his armed group into the CAR to back up embattled leader Ange-Félix Patassé.

According to the Court, MLC fighters committed war crimes and crimes against humanity on that mission, with Mr. Bemba “effectively acting as military commander.”

The Prosecutor of the ICC, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, underlined that “in the ICC era,” the fate of military commanders who commit crimes is prosecution.

“Jean-Pierre Bemba used an entire army as a weapon to rape, pillage and kill civilians in the Central African Republic. Today he is brought to account for deliberately failing to prevent, repress or punish mass atrocities committed by his men in CAR,” he told a news conference at The Hague.

With sexual violence not included in the grave breaches regime of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, Mr. Bemba’s trial is the first international criminal investigation in which alleged rapes far outnumber alleged killings.

“Sexual violence is at last being treated the way women have always experienced it – as a tactic of war and terror,” declared Margot Wallström, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Pointing to justice and accountability as “key pillars of prevention, deterrence and social change” in situations where sexual violence is rife, Ms. Wallström said that where impunity prevails, sexual violence can linger after the guns fall silent as a “war within the peace.”

She emphasized that Mr. Bemba’s trial signals that “no leader – however connected – is above the law; and no civilian – however isolated – is below it.”

Mr. Bemba was transferred to the ICC in July 2008 after being arrested by Belgian police. The Court decided that he would remain in custody until the start of his trial, reversing an earlier decision to grant him temporary conditional release.

The situation in CAR is one of five – along with Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Uganda – currently under investigation by the Prosecutor of the ICC.