ICC to issue judgement against Bemba, its first 'big fish'

17 March 2016 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

The International Criminal Court will rule this coming Monday in the case of Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba who stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bemba, who was transferred to The Hague in 2008 was seen as the first 'big fish' to have been caught by the permanent war crimes court.

The accusations relate to crimes allegedly committed by his troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) during 2002 and 2003, when Bemba was asked by then CAR president Ange-Félix Patassé to provide support during a civil war. As commander of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), Bemba is held accountable for multiple rapes and other crimes by his troops in CAR.

IJT spoke to three experts and longtime observers of the Bemba case about the significance of the ruling for the ICC, for international justice and jurisprudence and for the victims.

Initial appearance of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Aimé Kilolo Musamba and Fidèle Babala Wandu, 27 November 2013  (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)
Image caption: 
Jean-Pierre Bemba at his initial appearance in the ICC bribery trial against him in November 2013 (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)

What does the Bemba case mean for the ICC?

Thijs Bouwknegt, researcher of the NIOD institute for war, Holocaust and genocide studies, focusing on sub-Sahara Africa: When he was arrested in 2008 there was the feeling this was a very big fish, a serving senator of the Democratic Republic of Congo and a former vice-president. But the case is problematic because he wasn't prosecuted for crimes committed in the DRC-- which were quite extensively documented by (the UN mission in DRC) MONUSCO and human rights organisations-- but instead he was charged with crimes in the CAR.

The case appears to have a political character because the prosecutor to my knowledge has never investigated the DRC side of the story. Moreover, it was widely rumoured the ICC case was used to eliminate Bemba as a political threat to DRC president Joseph Kabila [IJT-117].

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