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Bangui Prosecutor Explains Why Bemba Was Not Tried in CAR

The top prosecutor in the Central African Republic (CAR) today explained why authorities in his country did not prosecute Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba over crimes committed by his troops in Bangui during 2002 and 2003.

Firmin Feindiro, who is currently testifying in the trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), stated that Mr. Bemba was not charged in the CAR over crimes committed in and around that country’s capital Bangui because he had acquired immunity from prosecution at the time CAR authorities concluded that his troops had committed the crimes.

Mr. Feindiro, who is the Prosecutor-General of the CAR, at the start of his testimony on Monday, explained how Central African judicial authorities investigated the perpetrators of crimes in the country.

As the lead investigator in the inquiry, Mr. Feindiro sought to determine the criminal responsibility for the various crimes committed, including rape, murder, theft, looting, and others of a financial and national intelligence nature. Yesterday, he told the court that his inquiry found that Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops perpetrated most of these crimes.

Today, Mr. Feindiro stated that no material or physical responsibility charges for the conduct of the MLC troops were brought before the examining judge; only “intellectual responsibility” was considered. He said that it was for the intellectual responsibility of the alleged crimes that Mr. Bemba and other co-perpetrators were found by Central African prosecutors to be criminally responsible.

However, once the case was presented to the examining judge, the judge did not maintain the charges against Mr. Bemba.

“He [Bemba] had become Vice President of the Congo and therefore had immunity. Central African criminal proceedings at the time had not accepted the principle of universal jurisdiction,” said the witness.

At the time Mr. Bemba sent his troops to the CAR to help then president Ange-Félix Patassé beat back a coup attempt, the MLC was a rebel group attempting to take power in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, following the signing of a peace agreement, Mr. Bemba’s group laid down their arms and Mr. Bemba became one of the vice presidents of Congo.

Under questioning by prosecution lawyer Ibrahim Yillah, Mr. Feindiro also stated that other individuals, including Mr. Patassé and his former Prime Minister Martin Ziguélé, were also not brought to trial. Mr. Feindiro filed an appeal against the decisions of the judge, but he did not state in court what the outcome of this appeal was.

Mr. Bemba is on trial at the ICC for crimes similar to those that the Central African prosecutor had sought to charge, not for criminal responsibility but command responsibility. As the commander in chief of the MLC, he is charged with failure to prevent, stop, or punish his troops as they allegedly raped, murdered, and plundered civilians of the CAR.

The Hague-based court opened its investigations into the CAR conflict in May 2007 following a referral from the Central African government in December 2004. The trial commenced last November.

Mr. Feindiro has also told the trial that the national judicial investigations conducted by his country heard from more than 300 victims, three quarters of them rape victims. Cases of murder and looting were also heard, but they were fewer than the rape cases. According to him, the rape victims identified their attackers as members of the MLC.

Tomorrow afternoon, legal representatives of victims participating in the trial will question Mr. Feindiro.