Former Congo warlord to face war crimes court
The International Criminal Court will start hearings in December to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to start a trial against ex vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba
The hearings in The Hague will take place from 8 to 12 December. Bemba's first appearance before the court was in July when he was charged with leading Congolese rebels in a campaign of rape and torture in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003. He is the highest-profile suspect to date brought before the world's first permanent war crimes court, set up in 2002.
The upcoming so-called confirmation hearings are publicly held in the presence of the prosecutor, Bemba, as well as his counsel and the legal representatives of the victims. It is one stage of the criminal procedure before the ICC which aims at ensuring that no case goes to trial unless there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that the person committed the crime with which he has been charged. Following these hearings, the judges will decide whether or not to confirm the charges brought by the prosecutor.
Bemba's Congolese and Central African rebellions
Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, an ethnic Ngwaka, is the son of a Congolese millionaire and was a close friend to former President Mobutu Sese Seko. Married and father of five children, he was one of the richest men in DRC. After he studied in Belgium he returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where he created various new businesses, particularly in the telecommunications, aviation and audiovisual industries.
Following the 1997 rebellion and takeover by Laurent-Désiré Kabila's forces, Bemba went into exile in Uganda. With the help of Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, he created the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). His movement was involved in the DRC's civil war that raged the country from 1998 to 2003.
In October 2002 the rebel-turned Bemba was invited by President Ange-Felix Patassé of the Central African Republic to fight down the rebellion waged by François Bozizé. The latter subsequently took power after a coup in March 2003. During the violence in the CAR, the MLC troops reportedly took part in a campaign of looting, attacking civilians and widespread rape. The MLC troops left the CAR in March 2003.
After Congo's civil war Bemba was chosen to represent the MLC within the transitional government. Up to 2006, he was one of the four vice-presidents until he put himself forward for the presidential election. He lost but in January 2007 he was elected senator. After several weeks of violent clashes between his personal militia and government forces, Bemba left for Portugal, escorted by UN forces, officially for health reasons. In June 2007 the DRC launched an arrest warrant against him for high treason.
Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested on 24 May 2008 in Brussels following the lifting of a sealed arrest warrant, issued the previous day by the ICC. Belgian judges had earlier sentenced him in absentia in 2003 to one year in prison for trafficking in human beings, but decided to transfer the former warlord to The Hague.
The ICC accuses Bemba of rape, torture, murder and pillage as crimes against humanity and war crimes in connection with the abuses committed by the MLC in the CAR.