, THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Mar 21 – War crimes judges deliver their verdict Monday against former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, blamed for unbridled rapes and killings by his private army in neighbouring Central African Republic over a decade ago.
It is the first case before the International Criminal Court (ICC) to focus on sexual violence as a weapon of war, and to place the blame for atrocities committed by troops on their military commander, even if Bemba did not order such crimes.
- Bemba has pleaded not guilty to three counts of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity for which prosecutors at the tribunal in The Hague allege he is "criminally responsible as a military commander".
- If found guilty he could face up to 30 in jail - or even a life sentence, if the court set up in 2002 to try the world's worst crimes, considers that it is "justified by the extreme gravity of the crime".
Once a feared rebel leader in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the 53-year-old is accused of failing to halt abuses by his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) which he sent into the Central African Republic (CAR) in October 2002 to help put down an attempted coup against then president Ange-Felix Patasse.
Some 1,500 Bemba troops allegedly went on a rampage of killings, rapes and pillage in villages in DR Congo’s northern neighbour over the next six months.
The marathon trial, which opened in November 2010, has “undeniably contributed to raising awareness of a destructive effect that the usage of sexual violence as a systematic weapon of war has on women and men,” said FIDH, a worldwide organisation of human rights groups.
By trying the alleged crimes in public the ICC has “helped to break the silence and the stigmatisation of victims of rape,” it added.
Bemba has pleaded not guilty to three counts of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity for which prosecutors at the tribunal in The Hague allege he is “criminally responsible as a military commander”.
If found guilty he could face up to 30 in jail – or even a life sentence, if the court set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes, considers that it is “justified by the extreme gravity of the crime”.