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ICC begins trial of Congo rebel leader Bemba

The trial of former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [BBC backgrounder], Jean-Pierre Bemba [case materials; JURIST news archive], began Monday in the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. Bemba is on trial [Reuters report] for charges stemming from his activities as the military leader for the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). It is alleged that during 2002 and 2003, he committed two crimes against humanity and three war crimes in the territory of the Central African Republic (CAR) [BBC backgrounder]. While Bemba pleaded not guilty to all five charges, the prosecutors of the case intend to argue that his failure to control the troops he ordered into the CAR renders him criminally responsible for the rape and other crimes they committed there. Bemba is being tried [ICC press release] before three independent magistrates to ensure fairness and expediency. The trial, which had been postponed since April, can be viewed here [streaming video].

Last week, appellate judges of the ICC ruled [judgment, PDF] that the trial chamber must review [JURIST report] Bemba's continued detention in The Hague. This decision overturned the trial chamber's July ruling [text, PDF]. Pursuant to Article 60 of the Rome Statute [text, PDF], chambers are obligated to review an accused person's detention once every 120 days. Last month, the ICC affirmed [judgment, PDF] a trial chamber ruling and dismissed [JURIST report] Bemba's appeal challenging the admissibility of his case before the court. The court also concluded that its jurisdiction over the case did not violate a Rome Statute provision that prohibits the ICC from hearing cases after a country has decided not to prosecute the person concerned. The ICC held that the order issued by the CAR did not constitute a decision not to prosecute. In April, Bemba's lawyers argued before the court that charges against him should be dropped [JURIST report] because he had been denied due process and the charges were illegal. In addition, defense lawyers claimed that Bemba lacked the financial resources [JURIST report] necessary to ensure a fair trial. Bemba was arrested [JURIST report] in Belgium in May 2008 after the ICC issued a sealed warrant for his arrest.

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