Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo

12.04.2016 ( Last modified: 16.10.2017 )
Trial Watch would like to remind its users that any person charged by national or international authorities is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

facts

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was born in 1962 in Bokada, province of Ecuador, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In the 1990s, Bemba, close to Mobuto, is a successful contractor who takes over the running of the family business and creates new industries, in the telecommunication, aviation and audio-visual fields.

Bemba goes into exile in 1997 following the seizure of the power by the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDLC) led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila.

A year later, with the help and the support of Uganda, he establishes the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) and its military branch, the Armée de Libération du Congo (ALC). The group becomes one of the major politico-military actors of the country.

The MLC operates in the DRC between 1998 and 2003. However, it is for its involvement in the Central African Republic (CAR) between 2002 and 2003 that Bemba will ultimately be condemned by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In 2002, the then president of the CAR, Ange-Félix Patassé, faced a rebellion led by François Bozizé. In order to protect his regime and defeat the coup, Patassé called on Bemba for his support. The MLC thus engaged in the civil war in CAR which will see Bozizé taking office after a successful putsch in 2003.

It is during this period that the MLC allegedly committed torture, rape, and attacks on human dignity such as humiliating and degrading treatment. They also allegedly took part in looting, particularly in the cities of Mongoumba and Bossangoa.

Bemba, as the president and commander in chief of the MLC, was allegedly the architect of any political and military decisions related to the actions of the group in CAR, and was aware of the crimes committed by his troops.

In June 2003, Bemba became one of the four vice-presidents of the transitional government in the DRC following the peace process and the power-sharing deal between belligerents.

Three years later, in October 2006, Bemba ran for the Presidency. He gathered 20% of the votes at the first-round ballot and lost the second round against Joseph Kabila with only 42% of the votes at the national level (with 70% in Kinshasa, the capital). Bemba contested the results and petitions the Supreme Court on multiple occasions, but without success.

Bemba then refuses to integrate his personal guard with the DRC national army, and openly positioned himself against the government of Kabila. Heavy clashes took place between the army and Bemba’s personal guard, resulting in the death of hundreds of civilians in Kinshasa.

legal procedure

In March 2007, an arrest warrant is issued by the DRC against Bemba for high treason. Even though he was elected senator three months before, Bemba, escorted by UN forces, is forced to leave the DRC for Portugal in April 2007.

Bemba is finally arrested the 24 of May 2008 in Brussels, Belgium, following an arrest warrant issued the day before by the ICC for the MLCs actions in the CAR.

First trial : The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo (ICC-01/05-01/08)

The Pre-Trial chamber II confirmed five charges against Bemba :

(i) murder constituting a crime against humanity within the meaning of article 7(1)(a) of the Rome Statute;

(ii) rape constituting a crime against humanity within the meaning of article 7(1)(g) of the Rome Statute;

(iii) murder constituting a war crime within the meaning of article 8(2)(c)(i) of the Rome Statute;

(iv) rape constituting a war crime within the meaning of article 8(2)(e)(vi) of the Rome Statute; and

(v) pillaging constituting a war crime within the meaning of article 8(2)(e)(v) of the Rome Statute.

The Pre-Trial Chamber affirmed that Bemba, as commander of the MLC, was responsible for the actions of his troops under article 28 of the Rome Statute (“Responsibility of Commanders and other Superiors”).

The Bemba trial began on 22 November 2010. Bemba pleaded non-guilty on all charges.

The trial lasted almost six years. 70 witnesses were heard and 5000 individuals were accorded victim status.

On 21 March 2016, the Trial Chamber found Bemba guilty of murder and rape as crimes against humanity as well as murder, rape and pillaging as war crimes, committed in the CAR between October 2002 and March 2003. The chamber concluded that Bemba was commander in chief of the MLC and had effective control over that group. He thus knew or should have known that the MLC was committing crimes and should have taken reasonable measures to prevent and stop them.

On 21 June 2016, Bemba was sentenced to 18 years of prison. The Chamber emphasised the serious gravity of the crimes of murder, rape and pillaging, and found two aggravating circumstances for the crime of rape: it was committed (i) against particularly defenceless victims and (ii) with particular cruelty. The Chamber also found that the particular cruelty with which the crime of pillage was committed constituted an aggravating circumstance.

Bemba appealed the judgment on the basis of several fair trial issues.

Second Trial: The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Aimé Kilolo Musamba, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, Fidèle Babala Wandu and Narcisse Arido (ICC-01/05-01/13)

Following the first case, a ‘trial within a trial’ opened for alleged offences against the administration of justice. The accusations targeted Bemba himself, but also four members of his defence team: his lead defence lawyer Aimé Kilolo-Musamba, his case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, Congolese Member of Parliament Fidèle Babala Wandu, and defence witness Narcisse Arido.

On 20 November 2013, the Pre-Trial Chamber issued five arrest warrants against Bemba and his defence team. While the ICC granted Bemba’s team interim release in October 2014, Bemba remained incarcerated in The Hague.

The trial started on 29 of September 2015. On 19 October 2016, the Chamber found the five accused guilty of: corruptly influencing witnesses by giving them money and instructions (article 70-1-c) providing false testimony (article 70-1-a) and presenting false evidence (article 70-1-b).

More precisely, Bemba was found guilty – as co-perpetrator with Kilolo and Mangenda – for having jointly committed the offences of intentionally influencing 14 defence witnesses, and presenting their false testimony to the court.

Bemba was sentenced to one year of imprisonment, which he will serve after the 18 years incurred in the first trial, and was ordered to pay 300 000 euros. His lead defence lawyer, Kilolo Musamba, and his case manager, Mangenda Kabongo, were sentenced to two years and two and half years respectively, but the Chamber suspended the execution of their sentence so long as they do not commit any other offence for three years. The Chamber condemned the defence witness and the Congolese member of parliament to 11 and 6 months of jail, but indicated that they had already served that time during interim detention.

Highlights

Bemba was the first to be detained and convicted for crimes committed during the civil war in the Central African Republic.

For the first time, the ICC convicted a defendant for rape as a war crime.

For the first time, the ICC convicted a former commander for crimes committed by forces under his control.

More than 5000 persons were accorded victim status – an impressive number compared to other ICC trials.

Fact Sheet
Name: Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo
Nationality: Congo
Context: Central African Republic
Charges: War crimes, Crimes against humanity, murder and rape; witness tampering
Status: Sentenced
Judgement Place: ICC
Particulars: Condemned for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC on 21 March 2016; found guilty of offences against the administration of justice on 19 October 2016