Monday, November 22, 2010

Former Democratic Republic of Congo Rebel Leader Faces Trial

Former DR Congo leader faces trial

Jean-Pierre Bemba pleads not guilty to charges of murder and rape as
his war crimes trial begins at The Hague

Last Modified: 22 Nov 2010 15:20 GMT

Jean-Pierre Bemba is charged with three counts of war crimes and two
of crimes against humanity

Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has gone on trial for rape and murder allegedly committed by
his troops in the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR).

The 48-year-old pleaded not guilty as the trial began at the
International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on Monday afternoon.

Bemba is charged with three counts of war crimes and two counts of
crimes against humanity for the alleged atrocities of about 1,500
fighters of his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) between October 2002 and March 2003.

He is the most senior political leader to be detained so far by the ICC.

"It is the first time in the history of international justice that a
military commander is on trial on the basis of indirect criminal
responsibility for rapes committed by his fighters," an official in
the prosecutor's office told the AFP news agency.

'Rape victims young as eight'

The case, which is expected to continue for months, should serve as an "example" for others who lead fighters in war, he said.

Jonah Hull, Al Jazeera's correspondent in The Hague, said the defence team told a pre-trial press conference that the court was likely to see "the most unfair trial in the histry of international justice".

"[The defence] said that Bemba in essence had no command of his forces once they crossed the border into the Central African Republic and that ultimate responsibility lies with Ange-Felix Patasse, the-then
president of the CAR, who invited Bemba's forces in to put down a coup in the first place."

But Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the ICC, told the press
conference that "the evidence shows that the troops were always under the authority and command and control of Jean-Pierre Bemba".

"The MLC is the army of and owned by Jean-Pierre Bemba," he said.

"Bemba created it, to make money and to make power ... and that is the point for us: you will not make money or power by committing
atrocities. You will be jailed."

So far, 759 victims have been authorised to participate in the trial,
with a further 500 applicants for the court to consider, a registrar

"It's the first time in the history of international justice that such
a large group of people has been authorised to participate," Paolina
Massidda of the ICC's office of public counsel for victims was quoted
by AFP as saying.

Prosecutors say that about 400 rapes were recorded in Bangui, the
Central African Republic [CAR] capital.

These were carried out during five months of fighting as the MLC
helped Ange-Felix Patasse, then Central African president, resist a
coup led by Francois Bozize, the current president.

But Aime Kilolo, Bemba's defence lawyer, said that the MLC "fought in
the uniform of the Central African Republic and under its flag, it was
the Central African authorities who were in charge of command and

Bemba fled DR Congo in 2007, after coming second to Joseph Kabila in a presidential election and subsequently refusing to disband his
militia. It led to clashes that left hundreds dead.

The former vice-president was arrested in Brussels in May 2008 on an
ICC warrant. The court was asked to take the case by Bozize.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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