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Former Congo rebel leader Bemba arraigned before ICC

[JURIST] Former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [JURIST news archive] rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba [ICC profile; JURIST news archive] appeared before the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] for the first time Friday after Belgium's Court of Cassation approved his transfer [JURIST report] on Tuesday. Bemba was identified before the court [ICC press release; hearing transcript, PDF] and said that he had been informed of the charges against him. Bemba's lawyers also lodged preliminary objections to the procedures followed by Belgian authorities in his May arrest [JURIST report]. The court has scheduled the next step in the proceedings for November 4, when it will a hold confirmation hearing before making a final decision on proceeding to trial.

Bemba has been charged [arrest warrant, PDF, in French] with war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) [BBC backgrounder] between October 2002 and March 2003. ICC prosecutors say he is responsible for rape, torture, outrages upon personal dignity, and pillaging. Bemba's arrest warrant is the first issued by the ICC in its investigation of large-scale sexual offenses [ICC press release] in the CAR. The New York Times has more. BBC has additional coverage.

Bemba, now a member of the Congolese Senate, was elected to office after losing a run-off presidential election [JURIST report] to Joseph Kabila [BBC profile], who in December 2006 became the first freely-elected president of the DRC since 1960. After the election, Bemba's private militia force led a violent campaign against government troops until the DRC Supreme Court rejected his election challenge [JURIST report]. In the process, Bemba's supporters set fire to the Supreme Court building [JURIST report]. Following the clashes, the chief prosecutor of the DRC issued a warrant for Bemba's arrest [JURIST report], and he fled to Europe. A court in CAR referred the original war crimes charges [JURIST report] to the ICC in April 2006.

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