ICC request minimum 25 years for Bemba’s war crimes in Central African Republic

May 23, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

Michael Kooren

By

Darell Maurice

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) last week requested “at least 25 years” imprisonment against former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba for the murders and rapes committed by his militia in Central African Republic between 2002 and 2003.

“Such a conviction would be proportionate to the gravity of the crimes committed by Mr. Bemba and his degree of culpability,” said Fatou Bensouda after three days of hearings on the subject.

If the judges listen to the prosecutor, this will be the largest penalty ever decided by the ICC. The Defence asked for between 12 and 14 years in prison. A decision will be taken at a later date.

On March 21, after an open trial in November 2010, the ICC found the former rebel leader of the northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) guilty of five war crimes and crimes against humanity, under the principle of  “command responsibility”.

This judgment was also the first of the Court to condemn the use of rape as a crime of war.

Prosecutors said there are two main aggravating factors that must be taken into consideration: the crimes were committed against “particularly vulnerable victims” and with “a particular cruelty,” said Jean-Jacques Badibanga, a representative of the prosecutor’s office.

In October 2002, some 1,500 militia of Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), traveled to the Central African Republic to support President Ange-Felix Patasse, victim of an attempted coup led by General Francois Bozize. Until March 2003, MLC troops had killed them, pillaged and raped – ‘In thousands of kilometers ‘.

Bemba has not participated in these crimes, he was not even in the same country, “said lawyer for the Defence Peter Haynes. “His guilt is that it has not managed to control a small number of his troops thousands of kilometers.”

At the trial, Mr. Haynes had argued that Bemba had issued no order to his troops in the Central African Republic but the judges felt that the former vice president, while in the bush in the northwest of DRC, was indeed “in constant contact” by phone, radio or satellite phone.

The Defence last week presented Bemba as a man of peace who has for many become a “bogeyman”. “This is as far from reality as was the man of the events for whichwe are here today.”

Minimizing the possibility of a return to politics for Bemba, Peter Haynes asked the judges to take into account various mitigating circumstances, such as the fact that his client has already spent eight years in detention or that his children have grown up without their father.

Bemba, whose trial was marred by witness subornation charges, listened to each’s arguments impassively, slumped in his chair.

The MLC, which has since become the second largest opposition party in the Congolese National Assembly, said the justice of the ICC was “selective and discriminatory.” “It is only the indictment of the prosecutor,” responded MLC secretary Bazaiba Eve.

Since its foundation, the ICC has sentenced two people to 14 and 12 years imprisonment for enlisting soldiers and children complicity in an attack on a village.

Jean- Pierre Bemba, became a warlord from July 2003 to December 2006, one of four vice presidents of Joseph Kabila‘s transitional government in the DRC. In 2006, he lost in the second round of the presidential election against the latter, and had settled in Europe. Following his arrest in Brussels in 2008 , he has already spent eight years in detention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Darell Maurice

Darell Maurice is a Journalist based in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital city Kinshasa and works for Canal7kintv. He also blogs here.

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