ICC finds Congolese politician guilty of Central African war crimes

Monday March 21 2016

The International Criminal Court has found former DR Congo vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba guilty of war crimes including rapes and killings by his private army in the Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003. FILE PHOTO | AFP

Judges at the International Criminal Court on Monday found Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba guilty of war crimes, including murder, rape and pillage during a 2002-2003 conflict in the Central African Republic.

Judges said Bemba, a former Democratic Republic of Congo vice-president, had allowed his Movement for the Liberation of Congo militia to commit atrocities against civilians in the neighbouring Central African Republic as part of their campaign in support of then-president Ange-Felix Patasse.

"Mr Bemba effectively acted as military commander and had effective command and control over the MLC forces" which carried out a slew of rapes, murders and pillages in CAR from October 2002 to March 2003, the presiding judge told the International Criminal Court, adding he was therefore "criminally responsible" for the crimes.

It is the first case before the International Criminal Court (ICC) to focus on sexual violence as a weapon of war, and to place the blame for atrocities committed by troops on their military commander, even if Bemba did not order such crimes.

Once a feared rebel leader in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the 53-year-old is accused of failing to halt abuses by his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) which he sent into the Central African Republic (CAR) in October 2002 to help put down an attempted coup against then president Ange-Felix Patasse.