ICC: Former Congolese Rebel Leader Guilty of War Crimes

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Former Congolese vice-president and rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba has been found guilty of war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The ex-rebel leader was accused of failing to prevent his troops from killing and raping people in neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) between 2002-2003. He has been found guilty of multiple charges including rape and murder and will remain in custody until sentencing.

 

Landmark trial

The verdict from ICC judges is a landmark decision for the Hague-based court and its cases against alleged war criminals. Bemba, 53, is the first suspect to have been convicted over crimes committed by people under his command. It’s also the first time the ICC has focused on rape as a weapon of war – a problem rife in many African nations during political unrest. Numerous Congolese suspects have been accused of similar crimes but this is the first time the ICC has successfully prosecuted a suspect in these cases. Bemba is only the third person to be convicted by the ICC since it was founded in 2002.

 

Bemba found ‘criminally responsible’

Bemba’s lawyers argued he was no longer in charge of his troops once they crossed the border into CAR and, therefore, shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. However, the presiding judge ruled that he retained effective control over his forces and remains “criminally responsible” as a result.

The verdict is a big win for the ICC, which has come under criticism for failing to convict more war criminals. Carrie Comer, from the International Federation for Human Rights, described the verdict as “a historic moment” which sends “a strong message from ICC judges that commanders must prevent and punish war crimes”.

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda also hailed the significance of the court’s ruling:

“What this decision affirms is that commanders are responsible for the acts of the forces under their control.”

 

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