On Monday, March 21 International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a historic judgment against the ex-Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba, convicting him of war crimes, including rape.
After a four-year trial in The Hague, the Congolese politician and militia leader was convicted of leading about 1,500 troops into the Central African Republic and allowing them to rape and kill civilians for several months in 2002 and 2003. It was a landmark ruling – not only the first time that the International Criminal Court has convicted someone for the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, but also the first time that the court has convicted a commander for having criminal responsibility for the acts committed by his troops.
Mr. Bemba, vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2003 to 2006, is the highest-ranking politician ever to be convicted by the international court. The court has filed charges against senior leaders from Kenya, Sudan and Ivory Coast but has had difficulty in getting arrests or convictions.
Delivering the unanimous verdict, presiding judge Sylvia Steiner gave horrific details of the atrocities by Mr. Bemba’s militia, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). His soldiers raped women, men and girls as young as 10, often at gunpoint in front of their families, she said.
Mr. Bemba was receiving regular reports from his military and civilian intelligence services, describing the murders and rapes by his soldiers, yet took no effective action to stop the atrocities, Judge Steiner said.
The ruling was greeted with approving by various human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and The Central African Human Rights League.
The current ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said the survivors of the attacks by Mr. Bemba’s soldiers “are still haunted by the horror of what happened to them, and what they saw happen to other victims.”
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