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ICC sentences DRC warlord to 18 years

June 21 - 2016 THE HAGUE
Jean-Pierre Bemba enters the court room of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on June 21 2016 (Michael Kooren/AP Photo)
Jean-Pierre Bemba enters the court room of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on June 21 2016 (Michael Kooren/AP Photo)

Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is the highest-level official ever to be sentenced by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday. The former militia commander received a sentence of 18 years in prison for rape and pillage committed by his troops.

Bemba is the third person convicted by the ICC, which was set up to try the world’s worst crimes in 2002. The conviction in The Hague is the court’s first verdict to recognise rape as a weapon of war and to employ the doctrine of command responsibility; that leaders are accountable for the crimes of their subordinates.

The ICC told Bemba that the years he had spent behind bars since his arrest in Belgium in 2008 and subsequent detention would be deducted from his sentence. Earlier in the day Bemba’s lawyers said they would appeal against his war crimes conviction and press for a mistrial.

'This is a very important day for international criminal justice, especially for sexual and gender-based crimes'

Bemba was found guilty last March of five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by his private army – the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) – after he sent them into the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) from October 2002 to March 2003 to quell a coup.

In their ruling, three trial judges found that Bemba was responsible as the military commander of the MLC for a reign of terror by about 1,500 of his troops, including wide-scale rapes and murders, as they sought to quash a coup against the then CAR president Ange-Félix Patassé.

Boost to court

“I believe this is a very important day for international criminal justice, especially when it comes to sexual and gender-based crimes,” the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, told Agence France-Presse news agency at the time.

The conviction and sentencing of Bemba will boost the court, which has an annual budget of more than $150 million. Campaigners said the case was also historic because a record number of civilian victims - more than 5,200 - participated in the proceedings and may now be eligible for reparations.

The ICC was set up in 2002 to be an independent international “court of last resort” for grave crimes that could not be dealt with locally. The institution, however, has repeatedly been criticised for unfairly targeting Africa and African leaders.

Several African governments have threatened to quit the ICC, for its negative bias towards African countries, including Sudan. Last month, Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, called the ICC useless during a swearing-in ceremony for his fifth term in power, prompting a walk-out by western diplomats.

Bensouda has said charges of bias are misplaced. “If certain people are looking to shield the alleged perpetrators of those crimes, of course they will say we are targeting [African states]. But … the victims deserve justice, the victims are Africans, and in the absence of the ICC nobody else is giving them justice,” Bensouda told The Guardian this month.

Crimes in Darfur

ICC Prosecutor Bensouda announced the suspension of the investigation into war crimes in Darfur on 12 December  2014, for a lack of action by the UN Security Council (UNSC). In an interview with Radio Dabanga, Bensouda said that the prospects of arrest of the four Sudanese suspects were bleak. 

In 2009, the court issued a first arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and a year later a second one for genocide committed against the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribes. An arrest warrant against former Minister of Interior Affairs, Abdelrahim Hussein, currently Governor of Khartoum state, was issued in 2012 for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur.

The ICC issued arrest warrants against former Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, Ahmed Haroun, who is currently Governor of North Kordofan, and former Janjaweed leader Ali 'Kushayb' in 2007 for numerous counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.  The Sudanese president, however, has defied the warrant since, and travelled to various countries in Africa, and to Saudi Arabia and China as well.

(Source: The Guardian)

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