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ICC temporarily postpones Bemba pre-trial proceedings

[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday temporarily postponed [decision, PDF] proceedings against former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [JURIST news archive] rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba [ICC profile; JURIST news archive] because another member of the pre-trial chamber was granted a leave of absence due to "grave family circumstances." The absence of a member of the chamber left an insufficient number of judges [ICC press release] on the panel to successfully confirm the charges against Bemba. Proceedings in the case will resume after a meeting of the parties ordered for January 12, 2009.

Bemba, who was originally arrested by Belgian authorities [JURIST report] in May, was arraigned [JURIST report] at the ICC on war crimes and crimes against humanity charges in July. 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. 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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