THE HAGUE. — Democratic Republic of Congo’s Jean-Pierre Bemba became the highest-ranking politician convicted by the international war crimes court on Monday, when it judged him responsible for a campaign of rape and murder in Central African Republic.
Bemba, who served as vice president from 2003 to 2006, failed to discipline or restrain his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers as they rampaged through the neighbouring country in 2002 and 2003, the International Criminal Court’s presiding judge, Sylvia Steiner, said.
The case is the first in which the ICC has found a high official directly responsible for the crimes of his subordinates, as well as the first to focus primarily on crimes of sexual violence committed in war.
“MLC soldiers by force knowingly and intentionally invaded the bodies of the victims by penetrating the victims’ anuses, vaginas or other bodily openings with their penises,” said Steiner, reading from an unusually graphic judgment.
United Nations human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein welcomed the verdict as a step toward eradicating “the horrendous sexual crimes which have blighted the lives of so many women.”
Steiner ordered that Bemba be held in custody pending sentencing at a later date.
Originally a rebel force in Congo’s Northwest, the MLC is now the country’s second-largest opposition party, and Bemba retains a significant following in the West.
His supporters had hoped he would return home to help unblock a political stalemate.
ICC judges said Bemba had punished some low-ranking soldiers for crimes and ordered inquiries into allegations of misconduct, which included raping girls as young as 10. — Reuters