The prosecution of Jean-Pierre Bemba (the former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo) currently taking place at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague is unique, in that it is the first time that sexual violence is central to an ICC case. Bemba, is on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the Central African Republic between 2002 and 2003. Bemba allegedly allowed his troops to murder, pillage and rape. The prosecutor of the ICC Luis Moreno-Ocampo has described Bemba's military campaign in the Central African Republic as systematic rape to assert dominance and resistance.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said soldiers from the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) under the command of Jean-Pierre Bemba invaded houses in groups of three and four. He said they stole all they could carry and raped the occupants - women, children and men alike. The crimes were “unspeakable”, Moreno-Ocampo said, as he began the prosecution case against Bemba at the ICC. (IRIN)
But none of the soldiers who committed the alleged crimes were in the dock in The Hague on 22 November at the opening of the trial. Nor was anyone charged with ordering them to rape, pillage and kill. Instead, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Bemba stands accused of failing to control his troops. It is the ICC’s first-ever case dealing with the doctrine of command responsibility, the idea that leaders both military and civilian are responsible for the acts of their subordinates. (IRIN)
The idea that commanders should be held responsible for crimes committed by their troops is nothing new in international law. German and Japanese officials were held accountable for crimes committed by their troops at the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals in the aftermath of World War II. One of the best known cases was the trial of Tomoyuki Yamashita, a Japanese general convicted of commanding troops responsible for atrocities in the Philippines. (IRIN)
Hopefully, the recent prosecution of Bemba will lead to more commanders being prosecuted for sexual violence committed by their troops. An end to impunity might be too optimistic, however, the Bemba trial might make other commanders think twice before letting lose their troops. Now worrying about being held accountable not only for what they did, but also for what they did not do. One can dream right?
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