Former vice-president of Congo Jean-Pierre Bemba has been sentenced for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The conviction by the International Criminal Court (ICC), is a landmark, holding commanders responsible for orders given and the actions of their troops. Most importantly, it is the first conviction of it’s kind focusing on the use of rape as a weapon of war.
Bemba faced more than 5000 victims of rape, who participated in the hearing. Another landmark, being the highest in any case before the ICC.
Bemba led the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) – a rebel group, turned political party. In 2002, he was asked by President of the Central African Republic, Ange-Félix Patassé, to put down a coup attempt. Bemba sent a private army into the country who proceeded to target civilians.
Bemba fled the Democratic Republic of Congo after losing a presidential poll and was arrested in Brussels, Belgium in 2008 by the ICC. He was transferred to the detention centre in The Hague where he remained until his trial (beginning in November 2010) reached a verdict (March 2016).
Prosecutors told the court that Bemba knew of the troops’ crimes of mass murder, rape and pillage “and did not take all necessary and reasonable measures within his power to prevent or repress their commission”.
Bemba’s defence lawyers insist this was not true, and that Bemba had no control over his 1500 troops. Kate Gibson, who represented Bemba said, “There is not a single documentary piece of evidence that shows any orders passing from Bemba and going to his troops in the Central African Republic.”
Judge, Sylvia Steiner, said that civilians faced the brunt of the attack, being “the primary rather than the incidental target of the attack”, with MLC soldiers opening fire at will on civilians.
Samira Daoud, of Humanitarian organization, Amnesty International, said that the ruling was a ““historic moment in the battle for justice”.
“It sends a clear message that impunity for sexual violence as a tool of war will not be tolerated. It also makes clear that military commanders and political superiors must take all necessary steps to prevent their subordinates from committing such heinous acts and will be held accountable if they fail to do so.”
In a statement issued via the UK Foregin Office, Angelina Jolie-Pitt, co-founder of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative said:
“My thoughts and my admiration go out to the survivors and witnesses who bravely testified in this case and contributed to this landmark conviction. I can only imagine the reaction of victims who in their hearts probably never thought that this day would come. It is shocking that this conviction is the first of its kind. It is a reminder of how long it has taken us to reach this point, and how many victims have never seen justice.”
Bemba was sentenced to 18 years in prison on 5 accounts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
By Zoya Pon, via Marie Claire SA.