New ICC Trial Opens: The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo

On Monday 22nd November, the International Criminal Court opened the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, who stands accused of war crimes allegedly committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

An ICC statement said:

The accused is allegedly criminally responsible, as a person effectively acting as military commander within the meaning of article 28(a) of the Rome Statute, for two crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three war crimes (murder, rape and pillaging), allegedly committed in the territory of the Central African Republic during the period from approximately 26 October, 2002 to 15 March, 2003.

After his arrest by the Belgian authorities in accordance with a warrant of arrest issued by the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC, he was transferred to the Court on 3 July, 2008. He is currently being detained at the ICC Detention Centre in The Hague.

His trial will be held before Trial Chamber III, composed of Judge Sylvia Steiner (Brazil), Presiding, Judge Joyce Aluoch (Kenya) and Judge Kuniko Ozaki (Japan). These independent magistrates will ensure that the trial is fair and expeditious and is conducted with full respect for the rights of the defence, the equality of arms and the principle of adversarial debate, having further due regard for the protection of victims and witnesses.

The trial of Mr. Bemba is expected to take several months. At the end of the hearings, the judges of Trial Chamber III will give their decision within a “reasonable period of time”. This decision will be pronounced in public: it will acquit or condemn the accused. The various parties to the trial will, if need be, be able to appeal the decision before the Appeals Chamber of the Court.

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is the leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) and has served as a politician in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was one of four vice-presidents in the transitional government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 17 July 2003 to December 2006.  He received the second highest number of votes in the 2006 presidential election. In January 2007 he was elected to the Senate. Mr Bemba has a significant number of supporters in the DRC, especially in the Western portion of the country.

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