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Central African Republic
The government of the Central African Republic (CAR) referred the situation in the CAR to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 22 December 2004. This was the third self-referral by an ICC state party, following those of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The ICC prosecutor’s investigation opened on 22 May 2007, with former DRC vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo the first person to face trial for alleged crimes committed in the CAR. The trial opened on 22 November 2010 and is ongoing. No other cases are ongoing in the CAR situation and no other public arrest warrants have been issued.
Opening of the investigation
On 7 January 2005, the prosecutor received a letter from the CAR government referring the “situation of crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court committed anywhere on the territory of the Central African Republic since 1 July 2002….” The prosecutor subsequently announced that he was carrying out a preliminary examination in order to determine whether to initiate an investigation.
In a decision of 11 April 2006, the CAR Cour de Cassation (the country’s highest criminal court) partly rejected an appeal against a decision of the Bangui Court of Appeal of 16 December 2004, which held that only the ICC was able to try the most serious crimes committed in the CAR since 1 July 2002. The Cour de Cassation held that the CAR justice system was unable to carry out effective investigations and prosecutions. The ICC Office of the Prosecutor had previously stated that it was waiting for the decision of the Cour de Cassation to decide whether to open an investigation in CAR, on the basis of the complementarity principle contained in the Rome Statute.
On 22 May 2007, the prosecutor announced the opening of the investigation into grave crimes allegedly committed in the CAR, with the peak of violence occurring in 2002 and 2003. The prosecutor’s announcement highlighted in particular sexual violence, referring to hundreds of victims telling of rapes and other abuses committed “with particular cruelty.” The prosecutor also explained that this was the first time he was “opening an investigation in which allegations of sexual crimes far outnumber alleged killings.”
Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is the first person on trial in the CAR situation. Bemba was the president and commander-in-chief of the “Mouvement de Libération du Congo” (MLC). He is a former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On 23 May 2008, ICC Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) III issued a sealed warrant of arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity for Bemba, which was unsealed on 24 May 2008. On 24 May 2008, Bemba was arrested by Belgian authorities and he was transferred to the ICC’s detention centre in The Hague on 3 July 2008. Bemba appeared for the first time before the judges of PTC III the following day.
The confirmation of charges hearing began on 12 January 2009. On 15 June 2009 PTC II confirmed two counts of crimes against humanity (rape and murder) and three counts of war crimes (rape, murder and pillaging) against Bemba, sending his case to trial. The crimes were allegedly committed in the CAR from 26 October 2002 to 15 March 2003.
The Bemba trial opened on 22 November 2010 before ICC Trial Chamber (TC) III. The trial had initially been scheduled to start on 14 July 2010 but was postponed due to a pending admissibility appeal in the case. However, on 19 October 2010, the ICC Appeals Chamber dismissed Bemba’s appeal against the decision on the admissibility of his case and TC III set the date for the trial to commence on 22 November 2010.
On 20 March 2012, the last of 40 prosecution witnesses was presented. On 1 May 2012, participating victims began giving evidence.
On 14 August, Bemba’s defense team commenced the presentation of its evidence and called its first witnesses. Around 50 individuals are expected to be called to testify in Bemba’s defense.
Proceedings were suspended for three weeks in September and October due to the disappearance and non-appearance of two witnesses. On 2 October, a status conference was held to address a number of resulting witness issues.
On 13 December, TC III decided to suspend the trial until 4 March 2013 to allow the defense to prepare for a possible legal re-characterization of facts by the judges.TC III has indicated that an element of Bemba’s criminal responsibility as a commander derived from ‘knowing that crimes were being committed’, may be changed to that he ‘should have known that crimes were being committed’. Between August and December 2012, the defense called 15 witnesses to testify, however one did not appear as scheduled.
16 Nov 2011
28 Sept 2011
19 Nov 2010