Overview of the Bemba case
By Justice Hub
Q: What’s it about?
What happened in the Central African Republic between October 26, 2002 and March 15, 2003.
Q: Who’s on trial?
Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former vice president, businessman, and militia leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been charged with two counts of crimes against humanity: murder and rape; and three counts of war crimes: murder, rape, and pillaging.
Q: He’s not from the CAR so how could he be guilty?
The prosecution must prove that victims of the alleged crimes were civilians and other protected persons and that Mr. Bemba is criminally responsible for the alleged crimes as he had a particular relationship to the forces which directly committed the alleged crimes in the CAR.
Q: They say that Mr. Bemba had “command responsibility” for these crimes. What is that?
Command responsibility is the legal liability of a commander or civilian superior for crimes committed by subordinate members of armed forces or other persons under their control. A commander can be held criminally responsible even if he or she did not order crimes to be committed. It is enough if the commander fails to prevent, repress, or punish crimes committed by subordinates.
Q: What has the prosecution been trying to prove?
The prosecution claimed that during the period that crimes were allegedly committed in the CAR, Mr. Bemba was the President and Commander in Chief of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), a rebel group turned political party and that he had effective command and control over the MLC.
During the trial, the prosecution presented evidence that while MLC forces were in the CAR, Mr. Bemba issued direct orders that his soldiers followed. Prosecution evidence also showed that he directed and disciplined MLC commanders and that he had the power to prevent and repress the commission of crimes.
The prosecution asserted that evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Bemba knew, or at least should have known, that his soldiers were committing crimes. The prosecution claimed that Mr. Bemba visited the CAR during the military campaign, mentioned reports of war crimes in private conversation and in speeches to his troops, and suspended two commanders suspected of pillaging.
The prosecution also argued that Mr. Bemba’s response to reports of MLC crimes was not sufficient, that MLC training was not effective, and its code of conduct was not widely available to its soldiers. Presentation of the prosecution’s evidence closed in March 2012.
Q: What about the defence?
The defence presented its case between August 2012 and November 2013. It argued that Mr. Bemba did not have effective command and control over MLC forces during their intervention in the CAR. The defense said that it was then-CAR President Ange Félix Patassé who invited the MLC into the country. The defence argued that the MLC worked closely with the CAR army and that President Patassé had command and control over MLC forces, not Mr. Bemba.
Mr. Bemba’s defence claimed that Mr. Bemba was in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the military campaign. The defence stated that Mr. Bemba neither received concrete information from his chain of command regarding alleged crimes nor did he possess the means to issue direct orders to his troops deployed in the CAR.
The defence also argued that Mr. Bemba took all the necessary and reasonable steps within his power to prevent or repress crimes by MLC troops. It claimed that MLC troops received comprehensive military training, including on the importance of human rights law and pointed to a published code of conduct for the MLC.
The prosecution presented 40 witnesses against Jean-Pierre Bemba. The defense for Jean-Pierre Bemba presented a total of 34 witnesses. 5,229 victims were granted participating status in the trial.
The judges will be reviewing transcripts from the testimony of 77 witnesses and 704 items of documentary evidence
Q: What happens next?
It is unclear how long it will take the judges to decide. Two other cases at the ICC each took about seven months for a verdict. And one other case took two years.
Click here for a timeline in the Bemba case.
Source: a report published by International Justice Monitor