Bemba did not control militia, ICC hears

2014-11-13 22:12
International Criminal Court in the Hague

International Criminal Court in the Hague (Shutterstock)

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The Hague - Jean-Pierre Bemba had "no command" over his troops in the Central African Republic a decade ago, the former Congolese vice president's lawyers said as his war crimes trial closed on Thursday.

Bemba, 52, faces three war crimes counts and two of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court committed by some 1 500 members of his private army in the neighbouring Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003.

His troops allegedly murdered, raped and pillaged after Bemba sent them into the country in late 2002 to help put down a coup against then-CAR president Ange-Felix Patasse.

But, defence lawyer Kate Gibson told the court in closing arguments, the militia "didn't maintain a direct operational line of command with the national military hierarchy."

The troops were instead "resubordinated [placed under] to the hierarchy of the Central African republic forces."

"If separate contingents in a coalition of troops would have followed different operational orders, you would have chaos."

Bemba is not accused of committing any violence himself but as a "military leader" according to the principle of command responsibility.

"There is not one single documentary piece of evidence that shows any orders passing from Bemba and going to his troops in the Central African Republic," Gibson said.

Despite Bemba not being a member of the Congolese government at the time of the atrocities, fellow defence lawyer Peter Haynes said the verdict could in future prevent countries sending troops to restore democracy.

"It is no exaggeration to suggest that the decision of this trial chamber may have a lasting impact on whether any nation is prepared in the future to send military assistance to a democracy in trouble," Haynes said.

Witness tampering

The prosecution on Wednesday said that Bemba did indeed have authority and control of his troops when they committed atrocities and that he could have stopped or sanctioned them.

The former rebel leader turned politician has said he deployed his troops when Patasse asked for help in quelling a rebellion led by the former armed forces chief Francois Bozize, who eventually seized power in 2003.

Bemba, who unsuccessfully challenged current DRC President Joseph Kabila in polls in 2006, went into exile after government forces routed his private militia in 2007. He was arrested in Brussels in 2008.

His case saw the Hague-based ICC approving a record 3 000 victims to take part in the hearing.

Presiding judge Sylvia Steiner said the verdict would be given "in a reasonable time".

In a parallel case Bemba and four associates including his defence lawyer and members of his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) have been accused of presenting false information and witness tampering in his trial.

Last month the court ordered the four men's interim release as that case continued, but the ICC has yet to announce a trial date.

The ICC is the world's only independent permanent tribunal to try cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It was established in 2002 and opened its doors a year later.

Read more on:    international criminal court  |  jean-pierre bemba  |  drc  |  central africa

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