Monday March 21, 2016 - Landmark
ruling at ICC as DRC warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is
found guilty of crimes against humanity including the
use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Guilty
verdict welcomed by rights groups as well as Prosecutor
The International Criminal Court
sitting in the Hague has today unanimously found a
former DRC warlord and former Vice President of the DRC Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo guilty of
crimes relating to the action of his forces in the
Central African Republic.
press release issued
today, the ICC among other details stated -
"Today, 21 March 2016, Trial Chamber III of the
International Criminal Court ("ICC" or "Court")
declared, unanimously, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo guilty
beyond any reasonable doubt of two counts of crimes
against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of
war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging).
were committed in Central African Republic ("CAR") from
on or about 26 October 2002 to 15 March 2003 ("2002-2003
CAR Operation") by a contingent of Mouvement de
Libération du Congo ("MLC") troops. Mr Bemba was a
person effectively acting as a military commander with
effective authority and control over the forces that
committed the crimes.
The Chamber found that Mr Bemba, a Congolese citizen,
was the MLC President and the Commander-in-Chief of the
Armée de Libération du Congo ("ALC"), the organization's
figurehead, and source of its funding, goals, and aims.
An MLC contingent of three battalions totalling around
1,500 men was deployed by Mr Bemba to CAR in 2002 at the
request and in support of former CAR President Ange-Félix Patassé to counter forces loyal to former
Chief of Staff of the Forces armées centrafricaines ("FACA"),
General François Bozizé.
Chamber also concluded that the MLC soldiers directed a
widespread attack against the civilian population in the
Central African Republic throughout the period of the
charges. MLC soldiers committed many acts of pillaging,
rape, and murder against civilians, over a large
geographical area, including in and around Bangui.
The Chamber found that acts of murder, rape,
and pillaging were committed consistent with evidence of
a modus operandi apparent from the earliest days and
employed throughout the 2002-2003 CAR Operation: after
General Bozizé's rebels had departed an area, MLC
soldiers searched "house-to-house" for remaining rebels,
raping civilians, pillaging their belongings, and, on
some occasions, killing those who resisted.
The Chamber concluded beyond reasonable doubt that
Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was a person effectively acting
as a military commander (Article 28(a) of the ICC Rome
Statute), who knew that the MLC forces under his
effective authority and control were committing or about
to commit the crimes charged.
Further, the Chamber found beyond reasonable doubt that
the crimes against humanity of murder and rape, and the
war crimes of murder, rape, and pillaging committed by
the MLC forces in the course of the 2002-2003 CAR
Operation were a result of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo's
failure to exercise control properly."
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda welcomed
the trial court's decision vowing to bring to book all
those accused of human rights violations as she pursues
justice for victims. In a
video message on
the ICC website, she made these observations part of
which we reproduce here.
"Today's conviction of Mr Jean-Pierre Bemba for his
failure to prevent and punish troops under his authority
and control for their rapes, murders, and pillaging
marks a crucial moment in the long search for justice
for the victims of the 2002-2003 events in the Central
African Republic ("CAR").
Since this trial began, our resolve has been unshaken
and our purpose clear: we aimed to establish the truth
through our independent and impartial investigation and
prosecution to hold accountable the most responsible
person for the serious crimes, including sexual and
gender-based crimes, committed against defenceless men,
women, and children in the CAR.
We have achieved our
Justice for the victims of the CAR has been our
primary and sole objective in this case.
The Prosecution called 40 witnesses and submitted
hundreds of pieces of documentary evidence about the
horrific crimes committed by Mr Bemba's men during their
five- months intervention and campaign of terror, as
well as Mr Bemba's continuing authority and control over
his Mouvement de Libération du Congo ("MLC") troops in
In locations under their control, Mr Bemba's
men systematically pillaged the neighbourhoods and raped
thousands of women throughout the country. They also
murdered civilians who resisted rape and pillaging. The
record of this case contains more than 5,000 victims.
Today's Decision means that Mr Bemba failed, as a
commander and leader of the MLC troops, to ensure those
under his authority and control did not commit
atrocities and were punished if they did so. Mr Bemba
did not merely send his soldiers to militarily support
the then Central African president; he did not just
conduct a military campaign engaging other military
forces. What he did was to release his armed men into
the civilian populations in the Central African Republic
where they engaged in a horrific campaign of pillage,
rape and murder.
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. It is a
key feature of this decision that those in command or
authority and control positions have legal obligations
over troops even when they are sent to a foreign
They cannot take advantage of their power and
status to grant to themselves, or their troops,
unchecked powers over the life and fate of civilians.
They have a legal obligation to exercise responsible
command and control over their troops – to provide
sufficient training to ensure that their troops do not
Mr Bemba's troops inflicted grave crimes against the
civilian population. To this day, men, women and
children who survived are still haunted by the horror of
what happened to them, and what they saw happen to other
victims. Lives have been destroyed for years and it will
take several generations to heal.
This case is also noteworthy in that
it has highlighted the critical need to eradicate sexual
and gender-based crimes as weapons of war in conflict by
holding accountable those who fail to exercise their
duties and responsibilities that their status as
commanders and leaders entail.
Today's outcome is also another concrete expression of
my personal commitment and that of my Office to apply
the full force of the Rome Statute in the fight against
sexual and gender-based crimes. We will spare no efforts
to continue to bring accountability for such heinous
crimes in future cases.
Where some may want to draw a
veil over these crimes I, as Prosecutor, must and will
continue to draw a line under them.
It is my sincere hope is that this conviction brings
some comfort to Mr Bemba's victims, including those
subjected to sexual and gender-based crimes.
I hope that
it will contribute to preventing atrocity crimes in
future so as to spare others from the same fate.
Make no mistake: today is an important day for
international criminal justice."
carried the story with this additional material that
profiles the former war lord and former Vice President
of the DRC -
"Jean-Pierre Bemba had an extremely privileged childhood
in one of the world's poorest countries but this has not
saved him from being convicted of war crimes at the
International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
Mr Bemba spent his youth between the Belgian and
Congolese capitals - Brussels and Kinshasa - and the
small remote town of Gbadolite in northern Democratic
Republic of Congo known as "Versailles in the Jungle".
This was the home and last refuge of the late Congolese
leader Mobutu Sese Seko.
Mr Bemba's father, the successful businessman Bemba Saolona, was very close to the former dictator.
When Laurent Kabila's rebel force overthrew Mobutu and
marched into Kinshasa in May 1997, Saolona was briefly
appointed a finance minister in the new regime.
Mr Bemba, who at a very young age lost his mother and
has had difficult relations with his father and
stepmothers, explicitly criticised his father's
acquaintance with Mr Kabila in his book The Choice of
A great admirer of controversial French businessman
Bernard Tapie and Italian Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi, the young Bemba sought other father figures.
Perhaps his greatest influence was Mobutu himself, who
employed him at the age of 30 as his personal assistant
in the early 1990s."
Another international news outlet
on the reaction of rights groups that had been following
the court proceedings.
"Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan, reporting from The Hague,
said the ICC's ruling was historic in several ways.
"Bemba is not only the most senior political leader ever
to have been brought to judgement here at the
International Criminal Court at The Hague, but what
makes this particular case a landmark ruling is the fact
that it has put rape as a weapon of war," Brennan said.
Descartes Mponge, secretary general of Congolese rights
group ACADHOSHA, said the judgment "strengthens the
ICC's credibility in Africa where it is accused of bias
Summing up the case against Bemba in November 2014,
prosecution lawyer Horejah Bala-Gaye told judges that
Bemba's forces "raped their victims at gunpoint anywhere
and at any time".
Bemba's lawyers told judges in their closing arguments
that there was insufficient evidence to convict him.
A rights group,
welcomed today's verdicts saying that those in command
of troops and others carrying out human rights abuses
cannot absolve themselves of blame for such atrocities,
more so when the court was convinced that he could have
known of the actions of men under his command and
In a reaction headlined "Bemba guilty
verdict uphold doctrine of command responsibility stated
"The guilty verdicts delivered by the
International Criminal Court against Jean-Pierre Bemba,
former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of
Congo, were welcomed today by Minority Rights Group
International (MRG) as the most important delivered by
the Court to date.
‘Bemba stayed away from the
battlefield and the scenes of his crimes,’ said Mark
Lattimer, MRG’s Director. ‘But the ICC today made it
clear that commanders cannot wash their hands of their
responsibility.’ In addition to his culpability, as
military commander, for three counts of war crimes and
two counts of crimes against humanity in the Central
African Republic, Bemba is also allegedly responsible
for crimes against humanity committed in the Congo.
In 2002-3 he unleashed a campaign of
extermination against the local Bambuti Pygmy
population, named Effacer le tableau (‘Erasing the
Board’). ‘Bambuti communities in the Congo’s Ituri
district were displaced en masse, fleeing rape and
murder at the hands of Bemba’s MLC fighters,’ said Mr
Lattimer, who led an investigation in 2004 into Bemba’s
crimes in the Congo.
‘Pygmy women suffered horrific sexual
violence and many Bambuti were threatened with
cannibalism. Bemba’s many victims in the eastern Congo
will sleep sounder tonight, knowing he will not return.’
It is the hope of rights groups and
advocates for social justice and justice for the victims
that in the absence of war in a country, especially
those coming out of conflict, that the necessary
machinery would be put in place to hold to account
leaders who appear to be unwilling or unable to bring to
justice officials and others accused of using their
positions to perpetrate sexual violence and other
degrading acts against the vulnerable.
Such a mechanism would see the rat and
those of his ilk who believe that such acts can go
unpunished in a country where victims of rape are
deprived of the support they so badly need in a society
where those with the right connections often look on
victims of sexual violence as deserving of the crimes
perpetrated against them.