“Through me, he (Bemba) is pleading not guilty,” Nkwebe Richard Liriss, Bemba’s principal defence counsel, told the court.
Bemba, the most high profile defendant facing justice at the ICC, is accused of three counts of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic between 2002 and 2003.
Listen to today's proceedings:[media:audio]
ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo described in his opening statement in The Hague how Bemba’s troops committed widespread rape, pillage and murder.
“These were not isolated incidents. They were committed by Bemba’s troops in a widespread and organised manner.”
Ocampo said Bemba’s militia “stole from the poorest of one of the poorest people in the world. The mass rapes were crimes of domination and humiliation, directed not only against women but also men with authority.”
“Those who resisted the rapes or pillages, were killed.” Bemba chose not to prevent his troops from committing these atrocities, the prosecutor said.
Throughout the session the bulky Bemba, current DR Congo senator and former business tycoon, shifted uneasily in his seat. Wearing a dark suit and a blue tie, he remained expressionless as the prosecution stated their case against him.
Ocampo underlined the importance of the trial. “This is the first trial at the ICC that concerns commander’s responsibility.”
“Unlike any other court, the ICC’s decision will influence the behaviour of thousands of military commanders of 114 state parties,” Ocampo said, pointing out that “ the difference between a military commander and a criminal is respect for the law.”
Meanwhile, Bemba’s defence team appeared confident and defiant. “I regret to tell you that you will be viewing for the first time, and let us hope for the last time, the most unfair trial that international justice has ever seen,” Nkwebe Richard Liriss, Bemba’s principal defence counsel, told Monday’s press conference.
“Mr. Bemba will be cleared of all the charges against him,” Liriss said.
The trial will resume on Tuesday. The prosecution said that dozens of witnesses will be heard throughout the trial, including victims, former officials and expert witnesses.