Jean-Pierre Bemba convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes in a landmark verdict


(Bangui, Paris, The Hague) Today, the Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, for crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003. Our organisations strongly welcome this historical verdict at the ICC which for the first time convicts an accused, as superior, for rape and emphasise the great achievement it represents for thousands of victims who have longed for justice.

“Bemba’s conviction sends a powerful message that the perpetrators of international crimes, irrespective of their political functions, cannot be shielded from justice and will be held accountable for their crimes.”

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

Jean-Pierre Bemba was found guilty of rape, murder and pillage in his capacity as military commander of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo. The significance of this verdict derives from two important precedents it has established. First, it is the first case at the ICC to focus heavily on crimes of sexual violence, including rape, as a war crime and a crime against humanity. Crimes of sexual violence against women, men, and children were used as a means to terrorise CAR civilian population. Secondly, the judges held an accused criminally responsible as a military commander for crimes committed by troops under his control for the first time at the ICC.

"The paramount importance of this verdict cannot be overstated -. It is a landmark along the road to justice for victims of crimes of sexual violence as it is the first conviction of this kind in the ICC. This trial contributed to raising the awareness about the consequences of these atrocious crimes on victims and their lives.”

André Olivier Manguereka, LCDH President

Since 2002, FIDH and its member organisations have regularly documented the crimes committed in CAR, supporting victims to access justice and the ICC by submitting communications to the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, highlighting the gravity of the crimes and the State`s unwillingness and inability to investigate and prosecute them. The elements of evidence submitted by FIDH were relied upon by the Office of the Prosecutor, legal representatives of victims and the judges, including it their judgement, and were ultimately important in proving the crimes and the role of Jean-Pierre Bemba in this case.

Fore more information, please check FIDH Paper and FIDH Q&A on the Bemba Case at the ICC.

The new Central African authorities and the international community must continue to support accountability mechanisms for international crimes being committed in CAR.

“It is of foremost importance to establish the Special Court without further delays and to continue to support the ICC in its second and ongoing investigation on the crimes committed since 2014.”

added Karim Lahibdji, FIDH President

The defence has 30 days to appeal the judgment. The Trial Chamber will now determine an appropriate sentence and decide on reparations for victims which include restitution, compensation and rehabilitation. Our organisations call upon all States Parties to contribute to the ICC Trust Fund for Victims and cooperate with the Court in ensuring that victims receive adequate and comprehensive reparations to which they are entitled after suffering of such grave crimes.

For further details on the ICC Trial Chamber’s decision convicting Bemba of crimes against humanity and war crimes, please read the full judgment or the summary of the judgment of 21 March 2016.

The ICC’s investigation in the Central African Republic was opened by the Prosecutor on 22 May 2007, following a referral by the CAR government in 2004. In 2002, then President of CAR requested that Bemba’s armed group, Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC) in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) be sent into CAR to dispel a tentative coup d’Etat. The MLC is accused of having committed the gravest of atrocities from 2002-2003 against civilians, including systematic rapes and murders.

Jean-Pierre Bemba was the leader of the MLC and later vice-president of the DRC. He is charged with three counts of war crimes (murder, rape and pillage) and two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape), in his capacity as military commander. The crimes he is accused of were allegedly committed during the armed conflict in 2002 and 2003 in the Central African Republic, when the MLC supported the armed forces of then President Ange-Felix Patassé in the coup attempt lead by François Bozizé, current CAR President.
Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested in Belgium on 24 May 2008 and transferred to the ICC’s Hague detention centre on 3 July 2008.

The trial against Jean-Pierre Bemba opened on 22 November 2010. Closing arguments were heard in November 2014. In May 2014, the President of CAR lodged a second referral to the ICC to investigate and prosecute the parties most responsible for ongoing crimes being committed currently by Seleka and Anti-Balaka militias in the country. The Office of the Prosecutor opened a second investigation in CAR on 24 September 2014. No arrest warrants have yet been issued.
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