Former DRC vice-president loses bid to end war crimes trial

2010-10-19 12:07

Former Democratic Republic of Congo vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba lost his final bid to have his war crimes trial dismissed when the International Criminal Court (ICC) today rejected his appeal.

“The Appeals Chamber confirms the impugned decision and dismisses the appeal,” Judge Anita Usacka said in The Hague, two and a half years after Bemba was arrested on an ICC warrant.

The 47-year-old stands accused of three charges of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003.

He is charged for acts of murder, rape and pillaging, allegedly committed by members of his Congolese Liberation Movement while helping troops of then Central African Republic president Ange-Felix Patasse resist a coup bid.

ICC judges had been awaiting today’s ruling before setting a trial date.

Bemba had argued that he was being prosecuted for the same crimes twice, in conflict with the legal principle of double jeopardy, after he had been charged by a senior investigating judge in the Central African Republic in 2003.

That investigation was, however, abandoned in September 2004 on the grounds that Bemba enjoyed diplomatic immunity as vice-president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Bangui Court of Appeal later upheld the charges and referred the case to the ICC.

ICC judges ruled in June this year that the 2004 dismissal of charges against Bemba in the Central African Republic did not constitute a formal “decision not to prosecute” that may have brought the issue of double jeopardy into play.

This was because the Central African Republic appeals procedures had not yet been exhausted by then.

The Appeals Chamber agreed, saying today: “There is nothing to indicate ... that the Trial Chamber erred in its determination.”
The judges also dismissed three other grounds of appeal, including Bemba’s insistence that judges should have allowed him to submit evidence from a Central African Republic legal expert on the criminal processes that had been followed against him in Bangui.

Following his arrest in Brussels, Bemba was transferred to The Hague in July 2008.

The ICC confirmed charges against him in January 2009 and ruled in August that he be released pending the start of his trial, for which no date had by then been set.

The prosecution challenged the decision to free Bemba, which was put on ice until December last year, and appeals judges determined that he should remain in custody after all.

The start of the trial, initially set for April 27, has been postponed three times – the last time indefinitely in July pending today’s ruling.

A business tycoon, Bemba left the DRC in 2007 after losing presidential elections held during a political transition that followed the country’s 1998-2003 civil war.

He had been one of four transitional vice-presidents before briefly leading the opposition, but was forced into exile when government forces tried to disarm his private militia in clashes that killed 300 people in March 2007.

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