ICC Finds Bemba Guilty Of War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity

ICC Finds Bemba Guilty Of War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity

The International Criminal Court has found former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba guilty on five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

A three-judge panel in The Hague ruled unanimously that Bemba was criminally responsible for acts of murder, rape and pillage carried out by his militia in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.

Bemba's Movement for the Liberation of Congo, or MLC, was helping forces of then-CAR president Ange-Felix Patasse fight a rebel movement.

Judge Silvia Steiner of Brazil, who read the verdict Monday, said evidence clearly showed that MLC fighters deliberately targeted civilians across the CAR and that victims included women, children and the elderly.

She said Bemba had effective control over the MLC at all times and knew his forces were about to commit atrocities.

Samantha Power, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, called the verdict "a significant victory for international justice and a major development in the fight against impunity for crimes of sexual violence."

Bemba had pleaded not guilty to the charges.  The former vice president, wearing a dark suit, was in court Monday and showed little reaction as the verdicts were read.

Bemba, 53, was arrested in Belgium in May 2008 and transferred to ICC custody that July.

He was previously one of four vice presidents in the Democratic Republic of Congo government from July 2003 to December 2006.  He fled the DRC in March 2007 after a gun battle in Kinshasa between his security guards and government forces.

Bemba will be sentenced at a later date and could face up to 30 years in jail - or even a life sentence, if the court considers that it is "justified by the extreme gravity of the crime"

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