This Monday, Trial Chamber III at the International Criminal Court (ICC) will deliver the verdict in the Jean-Pierre Bemba trial, which has been ongoing since November 2010. Bemba is charged with war crimes (rape, murder, and pillaging) and crimes against humanity (rape and murder) allegedly committed during an internal conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003.
Bemba is the former president and command in chief of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), a rebel group turned political party in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The prosecution accuses MLC troops of committing crimes, which include widespread sexual violence, in the CAR when they were in the country to help its former president, Ange-Félix Patassé, fight off a coup attempt. During the trial, the prosecution argued Bemba is liable for the alleged crimes of his troops because he had effective command and control over their actions while in the neighboring country.
Bemba has denied all charges against him and, among other arguments, claims it was former CAR president Patassé who had command and control over the MLC forces.
Along with this being only the fourth case to reach the judgment phase at the ICC, there are other significant milestones to note. The trial chamber has granted 5,229 victims the right to participate in the proceedings against Bemba – the most allowed in any trial to-date. The charges of rape are significant because this is the first case to heavily focus on sex crimes, which were reportedly used as a “tool” to terrorize the civilian population in the CAR. This also is the first time that a trial chamber at the ICC will address an accused’s liability under the command responsibility doctrine of Article 28 of the Rome Statute.
A second ICC trial is currently ongoing against Bemba and four associates (Bemba et al.) for alleged witness tampering in relation to his war crimes trial. The evidence in the witness tampering case may have implications for the credibility of witnesses in the main trial. However, judges in the main trial did not allow evidence from this case into the record, citing potential fair trial issues and ongoing litigation in the Bemba et al. trial.
International Justice Monitor will be following the verdict, scheduled to be announced March 21 at 2:00pm in The Hague. We will be posting live updates on Twitter via @IJMonitor. For more detailed information about the Bemba trial, see our 10-page briefing paper available here.