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Bemba case: ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, statement 21 March 2016

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Published on Mar 21, 2016

Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, regarding the conviction of Mr Jean-Pierre Bemba

Today’s conviction of Mr Jean-Pierre Bemba marks a crucial moment in the long search for justice for the victims of the crimes committed during the events of 2002-2003 in Central African Republic. Since this trial began, our resolve has been unshaken and our purpose clear. We aimed to establish the truth, through our independent and impartial investigation and prosecution; and we aimed to hold accountable those most responsible for the serious crimes, including sexual and gender-based crimes, committed against the civilian population in the country. We have achieved our purpose.

This decision was rendered by the Court’s panel of international Judges after weighing all the evidence presented by the Prosecution and the Defence, and after considering the views expressed by the victims participating in the proceedings through their legal representatives. At the end of a thorough and impartial judicial process, the Trial Judges confirmed that the crimes charged by the Prosecution occurred, and found Mr Bemba guilty beyond reasonable doubt for those crimes.
Today’s decision means that Mr Bemba did not merely send his soldiers as military support to the then Central African president; he did not just conduct a military campaign engaging other military forces. What he did was to release his armed men onto the civilian populations in the Central African Republic, where they engaged in a horrific campaign of pillage, rape and murder. Mr Bemba failed as a commander and a leader in charge of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo to ensure those under his command do not commit atrocities.
While the reality of the crimes is appalling, the significance of this decision is to be celebrated. What this decision affirms is that commanders are responsible for the acts of the forces under their control. It is a key feature of this decision that those in command and control positions have additional obligations. They cannot take advantage of their power and status to grant unchecked powers over the life and fate of civilians, to themselves, or to their troops. They have an obligation to set the necessary standards for their troops, and to ensure they do not commit atrocities.

Mr Bemba’s troops inflicted terrible crimes. To this day, men, women and children who survived are still haunted by the horror of what happened to them, and what they saw happen to other victims.

This case is also noteworthy because it has highlighted the critical need to eradicate sexual and gender-based crimes as weapons in conflict. It has shown that those commanders and leaders who fail to exercise their duties and responsibilities that their status entails - will be held accountable. . The campaign of terror, rape and violence perpetrated by Mr Bemba’s army was carried out on a large scale and targeted a significant number of civilians. This campaign had horrific consequences and resulted in great victimization. Justice plays an important role. We must continue to strive for the prosecution and accountability of those responsible for such crimes, until they are a thing of the past.

Today’s outcome is also another concrete expression of my personal commitment and that of my Office to apply the full force of the Rome Statute in the fight against sexual and gender-based crimes. We will spare no efforts to continue to bring accountability for such heinous crimes in future cases. Where some may want to draw a veil over these crimes I, as Prosecutor, must and will continue to draw a line under them.

Following this pivotal ruling, the Judges will now consider the appropriate sentence for Mr Bemba. My Office will now prepare arguments for sentencing, guided by the requirements of the Rome Statute.

It is my sincere hope is that this conviction brings some comfort to Mr Bemba’s victims, including those subjected to sexual and gender-based crimes. I hope that it will contribute to preventing atrocity crimes in future, and spare others from the same fate. Make no mistake: today is an important day for international criminal justice.

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