Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo
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, was a successful contractor who took over the running of the family business and created new industries, in the telecommunication, aviation and audio-visual fields.
Bemba went into exile in 1997 following the seizure of 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 established the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) and its military branch, the Armée de Libération du Congo (ALC). The group became one of the major politico-military actors in the country.
The MLC operated in the DRC between 1998 and 2003. However, it was for its involvement in the Central African Republic (CAR) between 2002 and 2003 that Bemba would 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 would see Bozizé take 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 President in the DRC. 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 refused 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.
In March 2007, an arrest warrant was issued by the DRC against Bemba for high treason. Even though he was elected senator three months earlier, Bemba, escorted by UN forces, was forced to leave the DRC for Portugal in April 2007.
Bemba was finally arrested 24 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 before the ICC: The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo
Bemba was charged with:
- Crimes against humanity: murder, rape
- War crimes: murder, rape and pillaging
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 not 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 of 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 the 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 imprisonment. 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.
On 8 June 2018, the Appeals Chamber decided to acquit Bemba from the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the Central African Republic.
On 12 June 2018, the Trial Chamber ordered interim release under specific conditions for Bemba.
Second Trial before the ICC: The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Aimé Kilolo Musamba, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, Fidèle Babala Wandu and Narcisse Arido
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, pursuant to article 70(1)(c) of the Rome Statute, providing false testimony, pursuant to article 70(1)(a) of the Rome Statute, and presenting false evidence, pursuant to article 70(1)(b) of the Rome Statute.
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.
On 22 March 2017, Bemba was sentenced to one year of imprisonment, which he would serve after the 18 years incurred in the first trial. Bemba was also 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.
The accused appealed the Trial Chamber decision.
On 8 March 2018, the Appeals Chamber confirmed the convictions in respect of most of the charges. However, it acquitted Bemba, Kilolo and Mangenda of the charge of presenting evidence that a party knows is false or forged.