afrol News, 19 October - The International Criminal Court (ICC) today confirmed it would take on the trial against the former Vice-President of Congo Kinshasa (DRC) for war crimes allegedly committed in the Central African Republic.
Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo led the Mouvement de libération du Congo (MLC), a rebel group controlling much of northern Congo ten years ago. In 2002, he ordered his armed group to cross the border into the neighbouring Central African Republic.
The MLC mission in the country was to assist the embattled Central Africa President, Ange-Félix Patassé, on his request. With the help of Mr Bemba's MLC rebels, democratically elected President Patassé managed to hold onto power for yet another year before being ousted by a Central African general in a military coup.
According to testimonies of a large number of civilians in the Central African Republic, Mr Bemba's rebels however did much more than helping President Patassé. The MLC rebels were reported to loot villages, rape local women and murder any civilian opposing their violent attack.
Mr Bemba served as one of four Vice-Presidents in the post-war Kinshasa unity government of 2003-06. He came second to President Joseph Kabila in Congo's 2006 presidential elections with 42 percent of the national vote.
Following an international arrest order issued by the new government of the Central African Republic in 2004, the ICC opened investigations into the MLC's alleged war crimes in 2007. The following year, a warrant for his arrest was also issued by the ICC and Mr Bemba was arrested in Brussels on 24 May.
Mr Bemba was charged with five counts of war crimes - murder, rape, torture, pillaging, and outrages upon personal dignity - and three counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture. The ICC said it found that there were "reasonable grounds" to believe that Mr Bemba bore individual criminal responsibility for these crimes.
Since 2008, Mr Bemba's defence team has challenged the admissibility of the case against him. His lawyers have, among other reasons, claimed that courts in the Central African Republic had dismissed his case and that he therefore could not be tried by the ICC.
The ICC's appeals chamber today however ruled that the case was admissible and that the highly profiled Bemba case will be run by the court in The Hague.
Mr Bemba's lawyers have assured the MLC leader has "no fear of the ICC" and is "totally sure of his innocence." The defence team and the MLC - now a political party in Kinshasa - however hold the ICC case against Mr Bemba is a political case wanted by Congolese President Kabila and Central African coup leader François Bozizé, who is still in power.
Human rights activists however have celebrated the ICC's tough line on Mr Bemba. The US-based group Human Rights Watch has even called on the court to investigate the many alleged war crimes committed by the MLC and its leader in northern Congo.
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