The International Criminal Court convicted former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba of murder, rape and pillage on Monday. The ruling was the first judgment that recognized rape as a war crime and crime against humanity. It was also the first conviction based on the accused’s role as military commander making Bemba the highest ranking official to be convicted by the International Criminal Court. Germain Katanga and Thomas Lubanga, former Congolese warlords, have previously been found guilty of war crimes.
Bemba’s crime is that of omission as he did not stop his troops from killing and raping people in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. The troops were more than 1,000 fighters sent to the CAR under Bemba’s command to put down an attempted coup. Speaking on the side-lines of the judgment, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said, “What this decision affirms is that commanders are responsible for the acts of the forces under their control.” Presiding Judge ruled that Bemba had effective control over the troops and was therefore “criminally responsible”.
Bemba had a privileged childhood and had the opportunity to shadow influential men like Mobutu Sese Seku who employed him as his personal assistant in the early 1990s. Ugandan Yoweri Museveni supplied troops, equipment and training when Bemba founded his rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) in 1998. With this help, MLC captured Northern DRC. Bemba later became the Vice President of DRC through a power sharing agreement after exerting military pressure on Laurent Kabila’s government. Jean-Pierre is said to be very rich but allies claim his wealth mainly came from gifts from leaders like Muammar Gaddafi. His affiliations with Central African Republic’s Ange-Felix Patasse led to the exportation of his violent MLC forces to clamp down a coup attempt. MLC was known for civilian killings, rape and looting in the CAR. BBC reports, “In one case, three generations of the same family were gang raped while their relatives were forced to watch.” National Post also reports that in another incident, a man’s wife was gang-raped and when he protested he was also raped at gunpoint. Such is the level of atrocities that Bemba’s terror group caused. Steiner rightly put it, “Entire families were victimized. Victims included the elderly men, women and children.”
Bemba is only one of three people convicted by the ICC but his conviction means more to the validation of the court than the other two. It sets a precedence that military commanders cannot hide behind not being the actual perpetrators. They are just as bad as the rapist and killer on the ground as they have the power to pull the plug but they choose not to. Even more important is the fact that rape is now considered under war crimes. This is a victory for the rights of women. Bemba awaits sentencing in custody and thus far, most of the world does not miss him.
Image Credit: The Herald