Press Release Issued By FIDH
(The Hague, Paris) The International Criminal Court (ICC) delivered a landmark sentence today, condemning Jean-Pierre Bemba to 18 years in prison for rape, murder and pillage committed by his troops in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.
FIDH and its member and partner organisations in CAR, the Central African Republic League for Human Rights (LCDH) and the Central African Republic Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) welcome this recognition of the gravity of the violence inflicted upon victims and their communities, in particular the devastating and inter-generational effects of sexual violence.
“The ICC has finally spoken, loud and clear: Sexual violence in armed conflict cannot go unpunished - its effects devastate entire communities,” stated Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. “Let this sentence be a warning to all other commanders who allow their troops to brutalise women and men, girls and boys: your acts are criminal and you will be punished.”
Mr. Bemba was sentenced to 16 years for the war crime and crime against humanity of murder, 18 years for the war crime and crime against humanity of rape, and 16 years for the war crime of pillaging. The judges found that the acts of rape were perpetrated with particular cruelty and against especially vulnerable victims, thereby contributing to the aggravating circumstances of the crimes. The sentences will be served concurrently, less the time he has spent in pre-trial detention since his arrest in 2008.
This sentence is the longest handed down so far in the ICC’s history, and yet still falls short of the 25 years asked by the Office of the Prosecutor and the maximum sentence requested by the Legal Representative for the more than 5,000 participating victims in this trial.
On 21 March 2016, Jean-Pierre Bemba was found guilty of rape, murder and pillage in his capacity as military commander of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo. The verdict delivered two historically important precedents: first, it is the first case at the ICC to focus heavily on crimes of sexual violence, including rape, as a war crime and a crime against humanity. Crimes of sexual violence against women, men, and children were used as a means to terrorise CAR civilian population. Second, the judges held an accused criminally responsible as a military commander for crimes committed by troops under his control for the first time at the ICC.
Mr. Bemba’s defence has filed to appeal the judgment, and has until 19 September 2016 to file the relevant documentation. Hearings on reparations to the thousands of victims in this case will be scheduled in due course. “Our organisations hope that this important and historic decision, for both victims and international justice, will be confirmed on appeal,” stated Olivier Mangereka, President of LCDH.
“The next step is to address Mr. Bemba’s liability for providing redress and reparation to the thousands of victims of his crimes,” stated Mathias Morouba, President of OCDH. “We urge the ICC to address this issue swiftly, and for States to actively contribute to the Trust Fund for Victims to assist in its reparations mandate.”
FIDH, LCDH and OCDH’s involvement in the case
Since 2002, FIDH and its member and partner organisations have regularly documented the crimes committed in CAR, supporting victims to access justice and the ICC by submitting communications to the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, highlighting the gravity of the crimes and the State’s unwillingness and inability to investigate and prosecute them. FIDH and its member organisations have actively advocated for sexual and gender-based crimes to be taken into particular account, especially during investigations by the Office of the Prosecutor. The elements of evidence submitted by FIDH were relied upon by the Office of the Prosecutor, legal representatives of victims and the judges, including it their judgement, and were ultimately important in proving the crimes and the role of Jean-Pierre Bemba in this case.
In the Prosecution’s submission on sentencing, the FIDH report was also used to indicate Mr. Bemba’s complete disregard for the victims of crimes committed by his troops.
International Criminal Court (ICC)