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ICC: Trial Opens for Congo’s Ex-Vice President

Bemba Case Relates to Central African Republic Coup in 2002

(Brussels) - Judges of Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court (ICC) will begin hearing evidence on Monday, November 22, 2010, in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, a former vice president of Congo, rebel leader, and leader of Congo's main opposition party.

The ICC has charged Bemba with three counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity for murder, rape, and pillage allegedly committed by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) rebel forces in the Central African Republic (CAR). Bemba and his MLC troops were invited to intervene in 2002 by the then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, to help put down a coup. The coup was successful and the rebel leader, François Bozizé, became president. In December 2004, he asked the ICC to investigate the crimes committed during the rebellion.

The Bemba trial will be the ICC's first stemming from its investigation of serious crimes in the CAR. The trial is expected to last several months.

"Bemba is the highest-profile suspect currently on trial at the ICC, but he is not the only one responsible for the atrocities in the CAR," said Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, the international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "The ICC should consider other prosecutions stemming from the coup, including, if the evidence warrants it, against former President Patassé."

The trial will start with opening statements by the prosecutor, Bemba's defense team, and the representatives of victims participating in the proceedings. Victims in the CAR have repeatedly called for justice for crimes committed during the coup, in 2002 and 2003. The court has accepted 135 victims as participants in this trial. An additional 1,200 applications from other victims are under consideration by the judges.

There is considerable interest in this case in the CAR, as well as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, because Bemba is such a high-profile personality there. Expectations are high, and so are rumors and speculation. The ICC should provide regular updates about the trial as it progresses, and organize outreach meetings locally to air and debate questions people want to raise, Human Rights Watch said.

Bemba is not being prosecuted in this trial in relation to crimes committed by his MLC troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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