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Former DR Congo leader on trial for war crimes

Jean-Pierre Bemba faces charges of murder, rape and pillage during the most important trial at the International Criminal Court to date.

Jean-Pierre Bemba is seen in court at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Jean-Pierre Bemba is seen in court at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

THE FORMER LEADER of the Democratic Republic of Congo has appeared at the International Criminal Court today, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Former vice-president of DR Congo Jean-Pierre Bemba is facing charges of murder, rape and pillage in the Central African Republic (CAR). The 48-year-old denies the charges, which include two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes.

In 2002, troops from the DRC entered the CAR to help stifle a coup attempt against the president of the country, Ange-Felix Patasse. Hundreds of civilians were murdered and at least 400 children, women and men were raped.

In in 2008, Bemba – a millionaire businessman – was arrested in Brussels and handed over to the ICC.

The most important trial yet

Bemba’s trial will be the most important ever undertaken by the International Criminal Court in the Hague to date. Bemba is the most high-profile figure ever tried by the ICC and the outcome of the case will carry significant implications.

In his native country, Bemba is widely perceived as being untouchable.

An official in the prosecutor’s office told the AFP news agency:

It is the first time in the history of international justice that a military commander is on trial on the basis of indirect criminal responsibility for rapes committed by his fighters.

Prosecutors will attempt to show that, as a military commander, Bemba was aware of the atrocities in question being carried out by his forces but that he did nothing to stop them.

However, his lawyers are expected argue that once his forces crossed the border they became the responsibility of the CAR authorities.

So far, 759 victims have been authorised to participate in the trial, and another 500 applicants are currently being considered.

The International Criminal Court

Bemba’s case is the third to go to the ICC. The other two cases sent to the court, which was set up in 2003, both related to conflict in the DR Congo.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is being prosecuted by a special separate UN-backed war crimes tribunal, rather than the ICC.

Bemba’s trial is expected to last for about six months.

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