Trial of former Congolese rebel Bemba to open in The Hague

2010-11-22 11:07

The Hague, Netherlands – The war crimes trial of former Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was to open at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague today, more than two years after his arrest in Belgium.

Bemba faces three counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity for murder, rape, and pillage allegedly committed by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) rebel forces during a coup in the Central African Republic (CAR), between October 2002 and March 2003.

The trial, whose start was twice delayed, is the highest-profile yet at the ICC, the world’s first permanent court to deal with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is expected to last several months, court officials said.

Bemba, whose father was a successful businessman with close ties to former Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, spent his youth between Kinshasa and Brussels and obtained an MBA from a prestigious business school in Belgium.

He became vice-president of the DRC in 2003, after leading the MLC in the DRC war of 1998-2003.

He was arrested by the Belgian authorities on May 24, 2008 and was transferred to the ICC detention centre in The Hague on July 3 of that year.

“Mr Bemba’s arrest is a warning to all those who commit, who encourage or who tolerate sexual crimes,” ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said at the time.

Bemba is accused of instigating a terror campaign against civilians in the CAR that comprised murder, torture and hundreds of rapes. He has denied the charges.

“The opening of the Bemba trial will be a historical moment for victims from the Central African Republic,” said Lucille Mazangue from the Coalition of the Central African Republic for the ICC, a pressure group.

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