UPDATE 3-Congo ex-vice president guilty in landmark ICC war rape ruling – Reuters

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(Adds reaction of Bemba supporters in Congo)

By Thomas Escritt

THE HAGUE, March 21 Democratic Republic of
Congo’s Jean-Pierre Bemba became the highest-ranking politician
convicted by the international war crimes court on Monday, when
it judged him responsible for a campaign of rape and murder in
Central African Republic.

Bemba, who served as vice president from 2003 to 2006,
failed to discipline or restrain his Movement for the Liberation
of Congo (MLC) soldiers as they rampaged through the
neighbouring country in 2002 and 2003, the International
Criminal Court’s presiding judge, Sylvia Steiner, said.

The case is the first in which the ICC has found a high
official directly responsible for the crimes of his
subordinates, as well as the first to focus primarily on crimes
of sexual violence committed in war.

“MLC soldiers by force knowingly and intentionally invaded
the bodies of the victims by penetrating the victims’ anuses,
vaginas or other bodily openings with their penises,” said
Steiner, reading from an unusually graphic judgement.

United Nations human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al
Hussein welcomed the verdict as a step towards eradicating “the
horrendous sexual crimes which have blighted the lives of so
many women.”

Steiner ordered that Bemba be held in custody pending
sentencing at a later date.

Dressed in a suit and a maroon tie, he at times shook his
head vigorously as Steiner read through the litany of charges,
and he is expected to appeal his conviction. That process could
take several years.


Originally a rebel force in Congo’s north-west, the MLC is
now the country’s second-largest opposition party and Bemba
retains a significant following in the west. His supporters had
hoped he would return home to help unblock a political

ICC judges said Bemba had punished some low-ranking soldiers
for crimes and ordered inquiries into allegations of misconduct,
which included raping girls aged as young as 10. But those
attempts were half-hearted at best.

MLC soldiers had pillaged to supplement their meagre wages
during the intervention in support of Central African Republic’s
then-president Ange-Felix Patasse, who was eventually deposed by
rebels led by his successor, Francois Bozize.

Bemba’s supporters reacted indignantly to the verdict.

“He did something about this, but they said it wasn’t
enough,” said Eve Bazaiba, secretary-general of the MLC outside
the courtroom. “How could he do enough? He was just one person!”

In Congo’s capital of Kinshasa, hundreds were packed into
the party’s provincial headquarters. “We are very disappointed
(at the news). We don’t even have the strength to return home,”
said one supporter, 23-year-old Tresor Tshinyama.

The son of a businessman who became rich during years of
close association with former Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese
Seko, Bemba founded and helped finance the MLC.

He entered government under current president Joseph Kabila
in 2003 as part of a power-sharing deal that ended years of
civil war.

A November election to replace Kabila, who defeated Bemba in
a 2006 run-off but is barred by the constitution from standing
again, looks likely to be postponed amid accusations that the
president is trying to cling to power.

(Reporting By Thomas Escritt and Jochen Elegeert; Additional
reporting by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Editing by Ralph Boulton
and John Stonestreet)

UPDATE 3-Congo ex-vice president guilty in landmark ICC war rape ruling – Reuters