ICC / Bemba case: NPWJ welcomes sentencing to 18 years imprisonment as a landmark step forward for victims of sexual violence

21 Jun, 2016 | Press Releases

Brussels-Rome, 21 June 2016
Today, the International Criminal Court (ICC) handed down a sentence of 18 years imprisonment against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, President and Commander in Chief of the Mouvement de libération du Congo (MLC) and former Vice-President of the DRC.  On 21 March 2016, he was found guilty in his capacity as military commander of two counts of crimes against humanity including murder and rape and three counts of war crimes including murder, rape and pillaging. The crimes were committed by the MLC between 25 October 2002 and 15 March 2003 on the territory of the Central African Republic (CAR). On 19 June 2016, the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, which was proclaimed by UN General Assembly resolution (A/RES/69/293), was observed for the first time worldwide.

Statement by Alison Smith, Legal Counsel of No Peace Without Justice:

“No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) and the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty (NRPTT) welcome today’s sentence of the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a considerable step towards redress for victims of the brutal conflict that took place in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003. This decision is also a landmark in the fight to end crimes of sexual violence in conflict, being the first time that rape and sexual violence as a war crime and a crime against humanity have come to trial at the ICC.

“As reflected by the nature of charges brought against Bemba, crimes of sexual violence against women, men, and children were significantly brutal in the Central African Republic and were used as a means to terrorise civilian population. It is significant that several of those victims have been represented at the Bemba trial: as much as trials such as this can and do contribute to the rule of law and deterrence nationally, regionally and internationally, we should never forget that they represent a chance for the people of CAR to have justice done, and to see justice being done.

“We also recognise that Mr Bemba is the first individual being charged before the Court with command responsibility, under Article 28 of the Rome Statute, for failure to act. This judgment sends an unequivocal message to military commanders that they must act when they suspect crimes have been or are about to be committed by troops under their control: failure to do so will engage their own criminal responsibility.

“Two days ago, the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict was observed for the first time across the world. It provided an opportunity to remember that sexual violence as a weapon of war continues to be a widespread and devastating crime committed in total impunity in numerous conflict-affected countries, from Afghanistan to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia to Syria and Sudan.  Accountability and redress for these past and ongoing human rights violations must be put at centre stage if there is to be any hope for reaching lasting stability, reconciliation and peace in affected countries. Everyone should consider today’s sentence a wake-up call in that respect.

“Finally, we strongly encourage the ICC to undertake adequate and sustained outreach to victims and affected communities in CAR to explain the sentence and what the next steps are, including for any appeal. Another crucial next step will be the procedure for granting reparations to victims who have filed applications to participate in the Bemba trial, which ICC judges are expected to order soon. Enhanced victims participation is one of the most relevant ways for the Court to fulfil the greatest part of its role: delivering a sense of justice and accountability to victims of crimes it investigates and prosecutes”.

For further information, contact Alison Smith on asmith@npwj.org or +32-2-548 3912 or Nicola Giovannini on ngiovannini@npwj.org or +32-2-548-3915.