International Criminal Court landmark ruling: former VP of DRC, Jean-Pierre Bemba, guilty of crimes against humanity, more

Jean-Pierre Bemba listens as the International Criminal Court presiding judge reads the verdicts in his four-year long trial, finding him guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. (Photo Credit: IntlCriminalCourt via YouTube)

* Editors Note – the print version of this story was updated to include a subsequent ruling on Thursday, March 24, 1016. The ICC found former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic guilty of genocide during the 1990s Bosnian War.

Human rights advocates are hailing a precedent setting ruling by the International Criminal Court at the Hague Monday, saying it’s the first step in addressing rampant impunity for rape as a tool of war. FSRN’s Nell Abram has more.

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The International Criminal Court returned a landmark verdict today, finding the former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner read the unanimous court decision. It’s the first time the ICC has ruled on rape as a war crime, and also the first time the court has held a military leader accountable for the actions of his subordinates, a legal theory known as “command responsibility.”

“Rape is a crime against humanity under Article 71 (g) of the statute,” Steiner explained. “Rape is a war crime under Article 82 (e) (vi) of the statute.”

Bemba is the highest ranking official the court has convicted to date. He commanded the Congolese Liberation Movement, or MLC, between 2002 and 2003, in a failed bid to shore up the CAR’s then president before his eventual ouster. After losing a race for the presidency of the DRC, Bemba fled the country and was later arrested in Belgium, where he has been detained since 2008.

More than 5,000 victims were eligible to participate in the trial. Seventy-seven testified in the four-year-long proceeding, describing egregious attacks in which entire families were victimized, including young children and the elderly.

At the close of the trial, Judge Steiner added that issues related to reparations will be “in due course.” The court ordered the 53-year-old warlord held in custody pending sentencing.

Then Thursday, the court ruled in another major case finding former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic guilty of genocide during the 1990s Bosnian War. The court convicted Karadzic on 10 charges related to the ethnic-cleansing during the multi-sided war in the former Yugoslavia including in the Srebrenica massacre in which troops under his command slaughtered more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in a matter of days in what had been a UN-declared “safe zone” for civilians.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia sentenced the 70-year-old Karadzic to 40 years in prison.

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