Former vice president of Democratic Republic of Congo arrested on charges of war crimes

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Jean-Pierre Bemba, one of the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) former vice presidents and militia leaders, has been arrested in Belgium on charges of war crimes. This comes as United Nations (UN) peacekeepers discovered three mass graves in the nation containing an estimated total of 100 bodies.

Reports say that the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) included at least two counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes which he allegedly committed in the "Central African Republic from 25 October 2002 to 15 March 2003."

Bemba, who fled the DRC in 2007, was arrested near Brussels on Saturday, May 24 late in the day. He had exiled himself after facing accusations of treason, which he denies. Bemba was DRC's vice president from July 2003 to 2006, and in 2007 was elected to the nation's senate. He was also in control of a militia called the Movement for the Liberation of Congo from about 2002 until 2006. As the leader, he refused orders for the group to renounce armed conflict after a new government was elected in 2006.

In addition to his political roles, Bemba is a businessman worth an estimated several hundred million US dollars. He has business ties in radio as well as television and aviation.

The warrant describes the specific charges that Bemba is facing in accordance with the Rome Statute of the ICC:

  • Two counts of crimes against humanity: rape - article 7(1)(g), torture ‑ article 7(1)(f);
  • Four counts of war crimes: rape ‑ article 8(2)(e)(vi), torture - article 8 (2(c)(i), outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment - article 8(2)(c)(ii), pillaging a town or place ‑ article 8(2)(e)(v).

"Pre-Trial Chamber III found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that in the context of a protracted armed conflict in the Central African Republic from about 25 October 2002 to 15 March 2003, MLC forces led by Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo carried out a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population during which rape, torture, outrages upon personal dignity and pillaging were committed in, but not limited to, the localities of PK 12, Bossongoa and Mongoumba," stated the ICC in a statement on their website.

The ICC states that this is the first in a series of arrests expected in an ongoing investigation.

"The warrant of arrest for Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is the first warrant issued in the situation in the Central African Republic. Four situations are currently under investigation by the Prosecutor: Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan (Darfur) [and the] Central African Republic," added the statement.

A UN mission spokesperson stated that the bodies discovered in the DRC have been there possibly since the 1990's or even the early 2000's, but an investigation is ongoing. Troops were patrolling an area in Maboya, a village in the Kivu province, when they found the bodies.

"Apparently they were graves dating back to the 1990's, but it's difficult to know accurately. The first one they excavated contained 100 bodies. The second was seven, and the third one they couldn't estimate," said Kemal Saiki, a mission spokesperson for the UN.

Millions of people are believed to have been killed during the years of 1998-2002 when the nation was ravaged with war.


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