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Bemba Trial To Open Next Week in The Hague: CICC and FIDH Press Releases
18 Nov 2010
Please find below the latest press releases issued by the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (I) and the International Federation for Human Rights (II) in advance of the opening of the International Criminal Court's third trial in the case against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo on 22 November at 2:30 p.m. in The Hague.
Please note that the trial will be broadcasted (with a 30-minute delay) on the Court's website at: http://livestream.xs4all.nl/icc1.asx
Please also take note of the Coalition's policy on situations before the ICC (below), which explicitly states that the CICC will not take a position on potential and current situations before the Court or situations under analysis. The Coalition, however, will continue to provide the most up-to-date information about the ICC.
For additional information you may refer to the Coalition's website at www.coalitionfortheicc.org
I. CICC PRESS RELEASE
"BEMBA TRIAL TO OPEN IN THE HAGUE: High Expectations Surround Trial Against Former DRC Vice-President For Alleged Crimes in the Central African Republic," Press release, Coalition for the International Criminal Court, 18 November 2010, http://www.coalitionfortheicc.org/documents/Opening_of_Bemba_TRial_CICC_18Nov10_EN.pdf
"The Hague - On 22 November 2010, the International Criminal Court (ICC) will open its third trial in the case against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo for alleged crimes in the Central African Republic (CAR). The upcoming opening of the Bemba trial is yet another step forward in the Court's work to prosecute the gravest crimes, the Coalition for the International Criminal Court said today.
"Victims and civil society in the Central African Republic have long sought justice for the terrible crimes Mr. Bemba is accused of committing," said William R. Pace, Convenor of the Coalition. "The Coalition for the ICC will monitor the trial closely to ensure core principles are respected, including fair trial guarantees and the right of victims to participate in proceedings," he added. "The Coalition will support the Court in its efforts to bring the trial closer to victims and their communities, including relevant outreach activities. We also urge all organs of the Court to better explain and to make every effort to reduce the long delays between arrests and trials."
Two years after Bemba's arrest, more than seven years after the commission of the alleged crimes and two postponements of the trial later, expectations are high around the Court's first and only case in its CAR investigation. "The opening of the Bemba trial will be a historical moment for victims from the Central African Republic" said Lucille Mazangue from the Coalition of the Central African Republic for the ICC. "Although the trial's many postponements were a setback for the victims, they still hope that the ICC will bring them justice," Mazangue stated. She noted that the longer the trial takes, the greater the risk that evidence fades - notably with the passing of victims - and the greater victims' expectations can get. "We hope that the Bemba trial will be held with due process and without any excessive delays," she added.
Jean-Pierre Bemba is charged with command responsibility for crimes against humanity (rape and murder) and war crimes (rape, murder and pillaging) allegedly committed in CAR from 26 October 2002 to 15 March 2003.The prosecution has informed judges that 14 witnesses will testify as victims of rape and sexual violence or as experts on gender crimes.
"This trial breaks new ground for the ICC, with evidence of sexual violence comprising a significant part of the Prosecution's case, and as the first ICC trial to charge an accused for command responsibility for rape," Brigid Inder, Executive Director of Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice said. "While we remain concerned by the Pre-Trial Chamber's decision to not confirm all the charges for sexual violence, we urge the Trial Chamber to admit evidence of the full range of harm suffered by victims/survivors of these crimes," Inder added. "The Bemba trial presents an opportunity for the Court to say firstly to women, that crimes of sexual violence are important enough to prosecute those who commit such acts; and secondly to leaders of armed forces and militias, that should they fail to prevent or punish subordinates for gender-based crimes, they will be held accountable."
A groundbreaking feature of ICC trials is the right of victims to participate in judicial proceedings. 134 victims were authorized by Trial Chamber III to participate in the trial through their legal representative, lawyer Marie Edith Douzima Lawson. The Chamber is currently processing further 1200 victims' applications. "The number of victims applying to participate in this trial is unprecedented. Hundreds of victims of rape, murder and pillage have exercised their rights by requesting to take part in the proceedings," said Souhayr Belhassen, President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). "FIDH welcomes the upcoming opening of this first trial on serious crimes committed in the Central African Republic as it will help to break the silence and the stigmatization of victims of rape, which was widely used as a weapon of war in the CAR. We hope this trial will shed light on the atrocities committed in the CAR in 2002-2003. We also plead strongly for the prosecution of others involved in the commission of crimes at the time, including other parties to the conflict," she added.
Jean-Pierre Bemba was the President and Commander in chief of the "Mouvement de Libération du Congo" at the time of the commission of the alleged crimes. He is also the former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and a senator in the DRC Parliament. Bemba is defended by lawyers Nkwebe Liriss and Aimé Kilolo-Musamba.
The arrest warrant against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity was announced by the ICC on 24 May 2008, at the time of his arrest in Belgium. Bemba was transferred to the ICC's Hague detention centre on 3 July 2008. Following a number of status conferences and a three-day confirmation of charges hearing in January 2009, ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II confirmed charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, sending his case to trial.
The ICC's investigation in the CAR was opened by the Prosecutor on 22 May 2007, following a referral by the CAR government on 7 January 2005. The Bemba trial is the Court's third trial, with two other trials ongoing for Congolese warlords Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui.
The ICC is the world's first permanent international court to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. 114 states are party to the ICC's treaty. Central to the Court's mandate is the principle of complementarity, which holds that the Court will only intervene if national legal systems are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute. To date, the ICC has opened five investigations in the CAR, Darfur, Sudan, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. It has publicly issued twelve arrest warrants and three summonses to appear. The ICC Office of the Prosecutor has made public that it is examining at least eight situations on four continents, including Afghanistan, Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, Georgia, Guinea and Palestine.
The Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) includes 2,500 civil society organizations in 150 different countries working in partnership to strengthen international cooperation with the ICC; ensure that the Court is fair, effective and independent; make justice both visible and universal; and advance stronger national laws that deliver justice to victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. ..."
II. FIDH PRESS RELEASE
"Opening of the Trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba: The Self-sacrifice and Courage of Central African Victims Finally Rewarded," Press release, International Federation for Human Rights, 18 November 2010, http://www.fidh.org/Opening-of-the-Trial-of-Jean-Pierre-Bemba-The
"The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) welcomes the opening of the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba before the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 22 November 2010, first trial addressing the crimes committed in the Central African Republic (CAR). Mr. Bemba is accused of having committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the CAR in the framework of the 2002-2003 armed conflict in the country.
"The opening of the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba is an important step forward in ensuring justice for victims of horrendous crimes committed in CAR, especially crimes of sexual violence, systematically used as a weapon of war. The date of the opening is symbolically significant since it takes place three days before the celebration of the international day for the elimination of violence against women, on 25 November", said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. "We welcome in this regard the participation, of hundreds of victims in the proceedings, through their legal representatives, and hope that they will be able to make themselves heard", she added.
Mr. Bemba is the leader of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC) and former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He is charged with three counts of war crimes (murder, rape and pillage) and two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape), in his capacity as military commander. These crimes were allegedly committed during the armed conflict in 2002 and 2003 in CAR, when the MLC supported the armed forces of then President Ange-Felix Patassé in the coup attempt lead by François Bozizé, current CAR President.
Since 2003, FIDH and its member organisations have regularly submitted communications to the ICC Office of the Prosecutor on the crimes committed in CAR, highlighting the serious nature of these crimes and the inability of the national judiciary to investigate and prosecute those allegedly responsible for such crimes. The inability of the CAR judicial system to deal with these crimes was confirmed by the Central African Cour de cassation on 11 April 2006. In its judgement, the Cour de cassation called for the ICC's intervention to try those responsible for international crimes perpetrated on Central Africain soil.
FIDH underlines the importance that the Office of the Prosecutor carries out further investigations with the aim of prosecuting all those bearing the greatest responsibility for crimes committed in CAR by all parties to the conflict, in order to ensure that all victims obtain justice and reparations for crimes under ICC jurisdiction.
Furthermore, it is to be noted that the FIDH Legal Action Group (GAJ) has assisted Congolese victims of crimes allegedly committed by Jean-Pierre Bemba at the time he was at the head of the MLC forces in the DRC, to submit a filing at the end of June 2010. The filing requested the Court to demand clarification from the Prosecutor on the reasons why he had decided not to prosecute Mr. Bemba for crimes committed in the DRC.
At the opening of the Bemba trial, FIDH remembers late Maitre Wanfiyo Goungaye, lawyer and human rights defender from CAR, who passed away in circumstances that remain unclear a few days before Jean-Pierre Bemba's confirmation of charges hearing, where he was due to represent numerous victims.
The situation in the Central African Republic has been under investigation before the ICC since May 2007. It was referred to the Prosecutor by the CAR government in 2004. FIDH and its member organisations had sent communications to the Office of the Prosecutor since 2003. Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested by the Belgian authorities on 24 May 2008, following the issuance of an arrest warrant by the ICC. The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II confirmed the charges against him on 15 June 2009.
A large number of Central African victims, who had advocated at the outset for an ICC intervention with respect to the crimes committed in 2002-2003, have come forward with applications to participate in proceedings against Jean-Pierre Bemba. To date, over 1300 victims have applied to participate. This figure is significant and unprecedented in the history of the ICC.
For more information, please refer to the FIDH Q&A on the Bemba trial: http://www.fidh.org/The-Bemba-Case-Questions-and-Answers , as well as to the relevant sub-section of our website: http://www.fidh.org/Trial-of-Jean-Pierre-Bemba-before-the-ICC ...."
CICC's policy on the referral and prosecution of situations before the ICC:
The Coalition for the ICC is not an organ of the court. The CICC is an independent NGO movement dedicated to the establishment of the International Criminal Court as a fair, effective, and independent international organization. The Coalition will continue to provide the most up-to-date information about the ICC and to help coordinate global action to effectively implement the Rome Statute of the ICC. The Coalition will also endeavor to respond to basic queries and to raise awareness about the ICC's trigger mechanisms and procedures, as they develop. The Coalition as a whole, and its secretariat, do not endorse or promote specific investigations or prosecutions or take a position on situations before the ICC. However, individual CICC members may endorse referrals, provide legal and other support on investigations, or develop partnerships with local and other organizations in the course of their efforts. Communications to the ICC can be sent to: ICC P.O. box 19519 2500 CM the Hague The Netherlands