Judges at the International Criminal Court on Monday found Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba guilty of war crimes, including murder, rape and pillage during a 2001-2002 conflict in the Central African Republic.
Judges said Bemba, a former Congo vice-president, had allowed his Movement for the Liberation of Congo militia to commit atrocities against civilians in the neighboring Central African Republic as part of their campaign in support of then-president Ange-Felix Patasse.
The conviction of Jean-Pierre Bemba marked the first time the court has convicted a suspect based on his role as a military commander. It also was the court’s first judgment focusing on a brutal campaign of rape by troops in an armed conflict.
Bemba, 53, is the highest-ranking person yet convicted by the court. He showed no emotion as Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner read out the long judgment highlighting horrific crimes by his militia.
He will be sentenced following a separate hearing. His defense lawyers can appeal.
Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner of Brazil outlined a litany of rapes by members of Bemba’s militia, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, after it was deployed to Central African Republic to help forces loyal to then-President Ange-Feliz Patasse fight rebels led by Francois Bozize. Bozize’s forces ultimately won and he replaced Patasse as president.
Steiner said women, girls and men were targeted by Bemba’s forces, often with multiple soldiers raping women and girls in front of other family members.
In one incident, a man’s wife was gang raped and when he protested he, too, was raped at gunpoint.
“Entire families were victimized,” Steiner said. “Victims included the elderly men, women and children.”