A spokesperson for the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) told VOA the trial of former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba on charges of rape, murder and crimes against humanity begins Monday in the Netherlands.
Daphne Anayiotos said Bemba is being held accountable for crimes allegedly committed by rebels in neighboring Central African Republic, including rape used, she said, as a weapon.
“Jean-Pierre Bemba will be on trial starting today, Monday, on the 22nd November in the Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.”
Prosecutors indicted Bemba for two crimes against humanity and three war crimes allegedly committed in the Central African Republic territory during the period from 26th October 2002 to 15th March 2003.
In 2004, Central African Republic referred the alleged crimes to the ICC.
Critics have questioned the rationale behind the trial contending President Ange-Félix Patassé invited Bemba to help stave off a rebellion.
“Patassé hasn’t been charged yet and we don’t know whether he would be charged or not, but investigations in CAR are still ongoing. So, there is a chance that the prosecutor will request a warrant of arrest against Patassé in the future,” Anayiotos said.
Bemba is the only person to be indicted by the ICC in relation to the allegations.
While in Belgium in 2008, Bemba was arrested in, and transferred to the ICC in, The Hague.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the ICC, told reporters that “after Bemba's troops conquered the areas where the rebels were, they organized small groups to move from house to house, raping and pillaging, killing those who opposed them. The weapon in this case was massive. It was an army.”
ICC spokesperson Anayiotos said Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, where Bemba enjoys significant support, is anxiously waiting for the trial to begin.