Former Congolese rebel leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba found guilty of war crimes

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Former Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba has been found guilty of war crimes in a landmark trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The 53-year-old ex-warlord was accused of failing to stop his rebels from killing and raping people in neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003.
He had sent more than 1,000 fighters to help put down an attempted coup.

Mr. Bemba, a one-time vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, will remain in custody until sentencing.

The court in The Hague found him guilty of several charges including rape and murder. He is expected to appeal.

It is the first time the ICC has focused on rape as a weapon of war, and the first time a suspect has been convicted over crimes committed by others under his command.
Analysis – By Maud Jullien
The fact that Bemba was convicted for sexual violence is significant. Many Congolese suspects have been accused of such crimes, but this is the first guilty verdict.
It will send the message to high-ranking soldiers and militiamen in the DRC that they are responsible for preventing sexual violence.
But in Congo, despite his murky record, Jean-Pierre Bemba still enjoys significant popularity.
There was also hope from part of the opposition that he would be released in time to run in the next presidential election, which is scheduled for the end of this year.

Welcoming the verdict, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said: “While the reality of the crimes is appalling, the significance of this decision is to be celebrated.

“What this decision affirms is that commanders are responsible for the acts of the forces under their control.”
Carrie Comer, from the International Federation for Human Rights, said the verdict was “a historic moment for victims of such unspeakable atrocities”.

It was “a strong message from ICC judges that commanders must prevent and punish war crimes,” she wrote on Twitter.

It is alleged that for a period of five months Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) rebel fighters killed hundred of civilians, raped women and looted.

The court heard horrific accounts, including how a man, his wife, his daughters and his granddaughter were all gang-raped by militiamen.

In 1998, Jean-Pierre Bemba was helped by Uganda to form MLC rebel group which saw him become vice-president under a peace deal in 2003.

In 2006, he lost the run-off election to President Joseph Kabila but got most votes in western DR Congo, including Kinshasa
After clashes in Kinshasa, in 2007, he fled to Belgium but was arrested in Brussels the following year and handed over to ICC.

Mr. Bemba has been on trial since 2010.

His lawyers argued that once the troops had crossed the border they were no longer under his command, but under the then-CAR President Ange-Felix Patasse.
But the presiding judge ruled that Bemba had effective control over the troops and was therefore “criminally responsible”.

Mr Bemba led the MLC during DR Congo’s brutal civil war. He is the son of a prominent businessman and a former assistant to ex-Congolese President Mobutu Sese Seko.

After a peace deal in DR Congo in 2003, he laid down his arms and joined an interim government.

Bemba is the most senior figure to face judgement at the court and only the third person to be convicted since the court’s founding in 2002.

Germain Katanga and Thomas Lubanga, both Congolese former warlords, have previously been found guilty of offences.

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