First ICC arrest over situation in Central African Republic 25 May 2008
Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former rebel leader, has been arrested in Brussels following a warrant of arrest issued by the ICC in relation to crimes committed in 2002-2003.

Jean-Pierre Bemba GomboJean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, the former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and ex-rebel leader, has been arrested in the suburbs of Brussels, Belgium.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant of arrest for Bemba on Friday 23 May 2008 for war crimes and crimes against humanity that he allegedly committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) from 25 October 2002 to 15 March 2003. He was arrested the following day on 24 May 2008.

Jean-Pierre Bemba is alleged to be criminally responsible for six counts including rape and torture as crimes against humanity, and rape, torture, pillaging and outrage upon personal dignity as war crimes.

The warrant of arrest remained under seal until Bemba’s arrest on Saturday.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, exiled Congolese rebel, was President and Commander in Chief of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC). These forces intervened in the 2002-2003 armed conflict in the Central African Republic at the request of the President of the CAR, Ange-Félix Patassé, in order to put down a rebellion directed by General François Bozizé. The latter subsequently took power after a coup in March 2003.

Pre-Trial Chamber III found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that MLC forces led by Bemba carried out a widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population during which the sexual and violent crimes were committed. These alleged crimes occurred in various localities including PK 12, Bossongoa and Mongoumba. The Pre-Trial Chamber determined that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Bemba was vested with de facto and de jure authority by the members of the MLC to take all political and military decisions during the relevant period.

‘Decades of rebellions’

The Central African Republic has suffered decades of army revolts, coups and rebellions since it gained independence from France in 1960. The peak of violence from 2002-03 during an armed conflict between the government and rebel forces was marked by the large number of acts of sexual violence committed against the civilian population.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo Following the arrest, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo declared in a public statement that “there are no excuses for commanders ordering, authorising or acquiescing to the commission of rapes and looting by their forces. We have evidence that Mr Bemba committed crimes. With the Rome Statute, nobody is beyond the reach of international criminal justice.”

On 22 December 2004, the authorities of the CAR referred the ongoing situation of crimes in the country to the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC. Following an analysis of the situation, on 22 May 2007 the ICC announced its decision to initiate an investigation in the CAR.

The Prosecutor declared on 24 May 2008 that “International Justice is in motion”. “Mr. Bemba’s arrest is a warning to all those who commit, who encourage, or who tolerate sexual crimes.  There is a new law called the Rome Statute. Under this new law, they will be prosecuted”.

Press release
Office of the Prosecutor press release

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