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ICC begins hearing for former DRC leader accused of CAR war crimes

[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday began a confirmation of charges hearing [summary video, mp4; ICC materials] against former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [JURIST news archive] vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba [ICC profile; JURIST news archive]. Bemba, originally arrested by Belgian authorities [JURIST report] in May, faces war crimes and crimes against humanity charges [arrest warrant, PDF, in French; JURIST report] for violations allegedly committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) [BBC backgrounder] between October 2002 and March 2003. ICC prosecutors said Bemba is responsible for ordering troops to use rape and torture to intimidate CAR civilians against supporting rebel forces in the country, but lawyers for Bemba argued that the forces that allegedly committed the crimes were acting under the authority of the CAR government, and that the charges against Bemba were politically motivated. After being postponed [JURIST report] late last year, the preliminary proceeding against Bemba is scheduled to finish by January 15. It will determine whether he will face trial on the charges against him.

Bemba 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 original war crimes charges [JURIST report] against him to the ICC in April 2006.

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