Congo’s ex-president has been found guilty by the ICC, here’s why this is significant
Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday, 21st of March, 2016. Bemba was held responsible for the numerous cases of rape and murder in the Central African Republic by his soldiers. According to the presiding judge, Sylvia Steiner, Bemba was found guilty for failing to discipline his soldiers.
The judge went on to rehash the horrific experiences the victims went through. “MLC soldiers, by force, knowingly and intentionally invaded the bodies of the victims by penetrating the victims’ anuses, vaginas or other bodily openings with their penises,” Steiner said.
Bemba, who was the leader of MLC (Movement for the Liberation of Congo), did nothing to stop his soldiers from committing murder and rape in the Central African Republic. The soldiers reportedly fired at civilians without any regard for their age or gender. The soldiers had gone to lend their support for the former President of CAR, Ange-Felix Patasse, who was eventually ousted by Francis Bozize, the current president.
While the charges against him were being read, Bemba reportedly was shaking his head occasionally, as if he could not believe what was happening to him. His lawyers have insisted that there was no way he would have been able control his troops. However, the ICC judges insisted that Bemba only made half-hearted attempts by punishing some junior soldiers and also ordered an investigation into allegations of misconduct. His supporters are disappointed, but his trial is seen as a way of getting justice for the victims, some of whom were granted the right to participate in the hearing.
Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested in Belgium in 2008 and has been on trial since November, 2010. Although his sentence has not been delivered, the pronouncement of his guilt is an important landmark for the ICC. This is because for the first time, the ICC held a high ranking official accountable for the crimes committed by his aides. Also, the response of the institution in dealing with sexual violence in war is quite remarkable. This should send a message to African leaders that if they or their subordinates commit atrocities, they will be brought to book.
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