March 21, 2016 -- Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court ("ICC" or "Court") declared, unanimously, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo guilty beyond any reasonable doubt of two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging). The crimes were committed in Central African Republic ("CAR") from on or about 26 October 2002 to 15 March 2003 ("2002-2003 CAR Operation") by a contingent of Mouvement de Libération du Congo ("MLC") troops. Mr Bemba was a person effectively acting as a military commander with effective authority and control over the forces that committed the crimes.
ICC Trial Chamber III is composed of Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner (Brazil), Judge Joyce Aluoch (Kenya) and Judge Kuniko Ozaki (Japan). The parties (the Prosecution and the Defence) may appeal the decision of conviction within thirty days, in accordance with the Rome Statute and the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, in which case the matter will be put to the Appeals Chamber composed of five judges.
The Chamber found that Mr Bemba, a Congolese citizen, was the MLC President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armée de Libération du Congo ("ALC"), the organization's figurehead, and source of its funding, goals, and aims. An MLC contingent of three battalions totalling around 1,500 men was deployed by Mr Bemba to CAR in 2002 at the request and in support of former CAR President Ange-Félix Patassé to counter forces loyal to former Chief of Staff of the Forces armées centrafricaines ("FACA"), General François Bozizé.
The Chamber concluded, based on the evidence before it, that the conflict in the Central African Republic from on or about 26 October 2002 to 15 March 2003 was an armed conflict between the Central African governmental authorities, supported by other forces, including the MLC, on the one hand, and the organized armed group of General Bozizé's rebels, composed of various former FACA soldiers and some Chadian nationals, on the other. The Chamber also concluded that the MLC soldiers directed a widespread attack against the civilian population in the Central African Republic throughout the period of the charges. MLC soldiers committed many acts of pillaging, rape, and murder against civilians, over a large geographical area, including in and around Bangui, PK12, PK22, Bozoum, Damara, Sibut, Bossangoa, Bossembélé, Dékoa, Kaga Bandoro, Bossemptele, Boali, Yaloke, and Mongoumba. The Chamber found that acts of murder, rape, and pillaging were committed consistent with evidence of a modus operandi apparent from the earliest days and employed throughout the 2002-2003 CAR Operation: after General Bozizé's rebels had departed an area, MLC soldiers searched "house-to-house" for remaining rebels, raping civilians, pillaging their belongings, and, on some occasions, killing those who resisted.
The Chamber concluded beyond reasonable doubt that Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was a person effectively acting as a military commander (Article 28(a) of the ICC Rome Statute), who knew that the MLC forces under his effective authority and control were committing or about to commit the crimes charged. Additionally, he failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent or repress the commission of crimes by his subordinates during the 2002-2003 CAR Operation, or to submit the matter to the competent authorities.
Further, the Chamber found beyond reasonable doubt that the crimes against humanity of murder and rape, and the war crimes of murder, rape, and pillaging committed by the MLC forces in the course of the 2002-2003 CAR Operation were a result of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo's failure to exercise control properly.
Sentencing and victims' reparations
Trial Chamber III will decide on the procedure to be followed for sentencing, after hearing the parties and the Legal Representative of Victims.
Issues related to the procedure for victims' reparations will be addressed in due course.
On 24 May 2008, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was arrested by the Belgian authorities, pursuant to a warrant of arrest issued by the Court, and was surrendered to the Court on 3 June 2008. On 15 June 2009, Pre-Trial Chamber II confirmed the charges against Mr Bemba. On 22 November 2010, the trial commenced with the parties and participants making their opening statements. The presentation of evidence commenced on 23 November 2010. The Prosecution, the Defence, and the Legal Representative of Victims made their closing oral statements on 12 and 13 November 2014. The Chamber granted 5229 persons the status of victims authorised to participate in the proceedings.
Throughout the proceedings, the Chamber issued 1219 written decisions, orders, notifications, and cooperation requests as well as 277 oral decisions and orders. The Chamber admitted a total of 733 items of evidence, including 5724 pages of documents. The Chamber sat for 330 working days and heard 77 witnesses, including 40 witnesses called by the Prosecution, 34 called by the Defence, 2 witnesses called by the Legal Representative of Victims and one witness called by the Chamber. The Chamber also permitted three victims to directly present their views and concerns.