Defense lawyers for former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [BBC backgrounder], Jean-Pierre Bemba [case materials; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday opened their case in the International Criminal Court [official website; JURIST backgrounder]. Bemba is on trial for war crimes 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]. Bemba has pleaded not guilty and his lawyers argue that the MLC was not under his control [RNW report] when the crimes were committed. Prosecutors had argued that his failure to control the troops he ordered into the CAR renders him criminally responsible for the crimes that were committed there.
Bemba's trial began [JURIST report] in November 2010. Earlier that month, 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. The preious 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.