The trial against Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court has been postponed by a week.The trial was set to start next Monday, but due to a “likely change in the composition of the bench” the court decided to postpone it. Opening speeches are now scheduled for July 14th.
By Thijs Bouwknegt
The former Congolese vice president and current senator stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) from October 2002 to March 2003.
Prosecutors say Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo ordered its militia to rape, murder, torture and plunder while they were in the CAR to support former president Ange-Félix Patassé, who was facing a rebellion by general François Bozizé.
Bemba’s lawyers tried to challenge the admissibility of the case, claiming he could not be tried for the same crime twice. “The prosecutor at Bangui High Court concluded in 2004 that Mr. Bemba just sent some troops to the CAR, but that he was not the one responsible for the command,” Bemba’s lawyer Aimé Kilolo Musamba explains. However, ICC judges rejected the motion last Thursday.
Bemba’s militia has also been accused of committing atrocities at home. Human Rights Watch researcher Anneke van Woudenberg says it is a “missed opportunity” that Bemba isn’t having to face charges for crimes his troops committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “It’s a real shame that this trial is only about what happened in the Central African Republic.”
In 2003, Belgian judges sentenced Bemba in absentia to one year in prison for trafficking in human beings. But following his arrest in Brussels in 2008, Belgian authorities decided to transfer him to The Hague rather than detain him in Belgium.