For Immediate Release
The International Criminal Court (ICC) today found Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in his capacity as president and commander-in-chief of the Mouvement de libération du Congo (MLC). The crimes – including rape, murder, and pillaging – were committed by members of the militia operating under Bemba’s control in the Central African Republic (CAR) between 2002 and 2003.
“This is a landmark victory for international justice and for the thousands of victims who have been waiting years for this decision,” said Karen Naimer, director of the Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones Program at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). “It marks the first time the ICC has fully recognized in a verdict the crime of rape as a weapon of war. The court’s historic decision today sends a powerful message – the culture of impunity is ending and the stigma and shame of this crime is moving where it belongs: to the perpetrator rather than the victim.”
A record number of civilian victims – approximately 5,229 – requested to participate in the Bemba proceedings and may now be eligible for reparations.
Bemba was found guilty of two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging).
The case marks the fourth trial judgment in the court’s 14-year history. The court addressed sexual violence in the case against Germain Katanga, also a Congolese national, but he was acquitted of those charges in 2014. This is the first trial at the ICC to address the situation in CAR. It is also the first time the court has employed the doctrine of “command responsibility,” holding leaders accountable for failing to prevent or punish the crimes of their subordinates.
The CAR government referred the situation to the ICC in 2005, and in 2007 the prosecutor opened the investigation into the grave crimes there. In 2008, the day after the prosecutor was authorized to issue an arrest warrant, Belgian authorities arrested Bemba, who was in that country at the time, and surrendered him to the Hague-based court.
In November 2014, the ICC also confirmed charges against Bemba, who also served as vice president of the DRC from 2003 to 2006 and as a member of the Senate, and four associates for alleged witness tampering and evidence forgery. Those allegations are being addressed in a separate and ongoing trial that commenced in September 2015.
PHR launched the Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, a multi-year training and advocacy initiative in 2011, with the aim of forging coalitions among regional medical, law enforcement, and legal experts in Central and East Africa. PHR’s goal is to dramatically increase local capacity for the collection of court-admissible evidence of sexual violence to support prosecutions for these crimes.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.