Former Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba has been found guilty of war crimes in a landmark trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Bemba was accused of failing to stop his rebels from killing and raping people in neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003. He had sent more than 1,000 fighters to help put down an attempted coup.
Bemba, once vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, will remain in custody until sentencing. The court in The Hague found him guilty of several charges including rape and murder. He is expected to appeal. It is the first time the ICC has focussed on sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Geraldine Mattioli from campaign group Human Rights Watch tweeted that the case “shines a spotlight on use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war”.
It is alleged that for a period of five months Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) rebel fighters killed hundred of civilians, raped women and looted.
His lawyers argued that once the troops had crossed the border they were no longer under his command, but under the then CAR President Ange-Felix Patasse. But the presiding judge ruled that Bemba had effective control over the troops and was therefore “criminally responsible”. Mr Bemba led the MLC during DR Congo’s brutal civil war.
After a peace deal in DR Congo in 2003, he laid down his arms and joined an interim government. Bemba becomes only the third person to be convicted by the court since its founding in 2002. Germain Katanga and Thomas Lubanga, both Congolese former warlords, have previously been found guilty of offences.
Son of prominent businessman
Former assistant to Mobutu Sese Seko
1998: Helped by Uganda to form MLC rebel group
2003: Becomes vice-president under peace deal
2006: Loses run-off election to President Joseph Kabila but gets most votes in western DR Congo, including Kinshasa
2007: Flees to Belgium after clashes in Kinshasa
2008: Arrested in Brussels and handed over to ICC