Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lawyers Challenge Warcrimes Trial of Congo Warload

Lawyers challenge warcrimes trial of Congo warlord

8:44am EDT

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Defense lawyers challenged the legality of the war crimes case against Congolese warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba on Tuesday, arguing he was denied due process by being brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Bemba, a wealthy scion of a business empire and an opposition leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was brought to The Hague in 2008 to face charges of leading Congolese rebels into a campaign of rape and torture in the neighboring Central African Republic in 2002-03.

Bemba is the highest-profile suspect brought before the ICC, the world's first permanent court established to try war crimes.

Bemba's lawyer argued that he was being tried at the ICC and not in Africa in order to keep him away from the region, and was denied due process. Arrested in Belgium in 2008, Bemba is being held at a detention center in The Hague.

"We have irrefutable proof of the interference of politics in this case, particularly in sending Bemba to the ICC," Defense counsel Nkwebe Liriss told the court.

Initially due to start on Tuesday, the trial was delayed to hear the defense's challenge of admissibility. Pending a ruling by judges on the challenge, the trial is due to start on July 5.

The ICC's prosecutor has charged Bemba with two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes for leading troops into the Central African Republic at the invitation of that country's president at the time, Ange-Felix Patasse, to put down coup attempts.

(Reporting by Reed Stevenson)

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