In a landmark trial, the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba of crimes against humanity and war crimes – including rape – in Central African Republic (CAR). The trial marks the ICC’s first conviction for rape and gender-based violence.
The ICC trial also marks the first in which the prosecution’s focus was on crimes of sexual violence. This is also the first time the ICC has handed down a conviction for ‘command responsibility’, holding a superior officer accountable for failing to prevent or punish crimes committed by his subordinates. Bemba was the head of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo Militia between 2002-2003.
Women and women’s rights groups are key to ensuring the ICC takes a strong stance against sexual violence. Three renowned women judges oversaw the Bemba trial and delivered the verdict—a clear indication of the importance of including women in justice processes. A similar mark was made during the ICC trial prosecuting Rwandan politician Jean-Paul Akayesu. Judge Navanethem Pillay challenged the prosecution for excluding sexual violence as a war crime in the court’s decision. As a result, the trial marked the first time a tribunal found that rape and sexual violence constituted independent crimes against humanity.
Jean-Pierre Bemba Convicted at ICC of War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity, NBC News, 21 March 2016.
The Trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the ICC, Open Society Foundations, March 2016.
Three Female Judges Just Made History by Convicting a Commander for Rapes Committed by His Troops, UN Dispatch, 21 March 2016.