ICC allows trial of Congo rebel leader Bemba to proceed

ICC allows trial of Congo rebel leader Bemba to proceed

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF; press release] Tuesday that the war crimes trial of former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [BBC backgrounder] vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba [ICC materials; JURIST news archive] can proceed. Appeals chamber Judge Anita Usacka affirmed the ruling of the trial chamber and dismissed Bemba’s appeal challenging the admissibility of the case before the ICC. The court found that Bemba did not meet the minimum requirements for consideration of the merits for his appeal. In the judgment, Usacka explained that:

Mr Bemba merely states that the alleged error of the Trial Chamber “significantly affected the fair and expeditious conduct of current proceedings.” The rest of his submission in relation to this ground of appeal concerns the importance the Trial Chamber previously accorded to this issue and the difficulties the Defence team faced which prevented it from submitting this filing sooner, but not that the alleged error materially affected the outcome of the impugned decision.

The court also concluded that the ICC’s jurisdiction over the case does not violate a Rome Statute [text, PDF] 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 Central African Republic (CAR) [DOS backgrounder] did not constitute a decision not to prosecute. Bemba faces two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. The ICC has not set a trial date.

In April, defense lawyers argued before the court that charges against Bemba should be dropped [JURIST report] because he had been denied due process and the charges are illegal. In addition, defense lawyers claimed that Bemba lacked the financial resources [JURIST report] necessary to ensure a fair trial. The ICC ordered Bemba to stand trial in July 2009 for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity [JURIST report] committed between October 2002 and May 2003 while he was a military leader of the Congo Liberation Movement (MLC). Bemba was arrested [JURIST report] in Belgium in May 2008 after the ICC issued a sealed warrant for his arrest. The charges in the arrest warrant included rape, torture, outrages upon personal dignity and pillaging.