Tuesday, January 13, 2009

War Crimes Court Hears Evidence Against Former DRC Rebel Jean-Pierre Bemba

War crimes court hears evidence against Bemba

THE HAGUE (AFP) - - Prosecutors submitted chilling witness accounts of atrocities to the International Criminal Court Tuesday in a bid to have former DR Congo vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba tried for war crimes.

Bemba sat stony-faced in the dock as prosecutors produced evidence of gang rapes of men, women and children, of torture, and of murders allegedly committed by militia under his command in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Many of the killings attributed to the ex-rebel leader's Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) were committed in the CAR in 2002 and 2003 in the execution of other crimes like rape and looting, prosecutors alleged.

"MLC troops had a licence to kill without repercussions," prosecution lawyer Horejah Bala-Gaye argued on the second day of a hearing to determine whether Bemba will be tried before the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"They killed men, women and children indiscriminately, they killed girls and boys as young as seven months old and grandmothers and grandfathers."

Another member of the prosecuting team, Petra Kneuer, gave the three judges gruesome victim accounts of rape.

In one case, a 10-year-old girl was gang-raped after being taken by suspected MLC troops from her father, who was held to the ground as she screamed for his help.

"They raped people in their homes, in compounds, on the street and in the open," she said. "Several are still living with the scars, including HIV."

The hearing in The Hague is aimed at determining whether there are sufficient grounds to put 46-year-old Bemba on trial.

Prosecutors say his MLC had entered the neighbouring country in October 2002 at the behest of then president Ange Felixe Patasse, to help put down a coup by general Francois Bozize. Bozize took power in 2003 and asked the ICC to probe the events.

"There are substantial grounds to believe that Jean-Pierre Bemba had control over the MLC troops and the crimes they committed in the Central African Republic," argued Bala-Gaye.

But Bemba's lawyers claimed the case was part of a political conspiracy against him, that his militiamen were bona fide troops deployed in the CAR to protect a democratically elected government, and that they were under Patasse's command.

Nkwebe Liriss argued for the defence that there was "no evidence to demonstrate that Mr Bemba had knowledge (of the crimes) or the requisite intent (to commit them)".

He added it would not have made sense for Bemba or Patasse to allow the soldiers to "rape women and leave the rebels to advance".

Bemba was arrested on an ICC warrant in Brussels last May. He faces five charges of war crimes and three of crimes against humanity for rape, torture, looting and murder committed by his MLC movement.

After a years-long civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bemba became one of four vice-presidents in a transitional government ahead of landmark 2006 elections.

The Belgian-educated son of a rich businessman, Bemba ran for the presidency but was defeated by Joseph Kabila.

He led the opposition to Kabila, which turned violent when government forces tried to disarm his private militia in clashes that killed 300 in March 2007, and forced him into exile.

The court will rule within 60 days whether he will stand trial.

No comments: