Today's conviction of Mr Jean-Pierre Bemba for his failure to prevent and punish troops under his authority and control for their rapes, murders, and pillaging marks a crucial moment in the long search for justice for the victims of the 2002-2003 events in the Central African Republic ("CAR").
Since this trial began, our resolve has been unshaken and our purpose clear: we aimed to establish the truth through our independent and impartial investigation and prosecution to hold accountable the most responsible person for the serious crimes, including sexual and gender-based crimes, committed against defenceless men, women, and children in the CAR. We have achieved our purpose. Justice for the victims of the CAR has been our primary and sole objective in this case.
The Prosecution called 40 witnesses and submitted hundreds of pieces of documentary evidence about the horrific crimes committed by Mr Bemba's men during their five- months intervention and campaign of terror, as well as Mr Bemba's continuing authority and control over his Mouvement de Libération du Congo ("MLC") troops in the CAR. In locations under their control, Mr Bemba's men systematically pillaged the neighbourhoods and raped thousands of women throughout the country. They also murdered civilians who resisted rape and pillaging. The record of this case contains more than 5,000 victims.
This Decision reflects the considered assessment of three independent judges who weighed all the evidence presented by the Prosecution and the Defence, as well as the evidence and views expressed by the victims participating in the proceedings through their legal representatives. At the end of a thorough and impartial judicial process, the Judges found that the crimes charged by the Prosecution had been committed by MLC troops and that Mr Bemba is guilty beyond reasonable doubt for those crimes.
Today's Decision means that Mr Bemba failed, as a commander and leader of the MLC troops, to ensure those under his authority and control did not commit atrocities and were punished if they did so. Mr Bemba did not merely send his soldiers to militarily support the then Central African president; he did not just conduct a military campaign engaging other military forces. What he did was to release his armed men into the civilian populations in the Central African Republic where they engaged in a horrific campaign of pillage, rape and murder.
While the reality of the crimes is appalling, the significance of this Decision is to be celebrated. What this Decision affirms is that commanders are responsible for the acts of the forces under their control. It is a key feature of this decision that those in command or authority and control positions have legal obligations over troops even when they are sent to a foreign country. They cannot take advantage of their power and status to grant to themselves, or their troops, unchecked powers over the life and fate of civilians. They have a legal obligation to exercise responsible command and control over their troops – to provide sufficient training to ensure that their troops do not commit atrocities.
Mr Bemba's troops inflicted grave crimes against the civilian population. To this day, men, women and children who survived are still haunted by the horror of what happened to them, and what they saw happen to other victims. Lives have been destroyed for years and it will take several generations to heal.
This case is also noteworthy in that it has highlighted the critical need to eradicate sexual and gender-based crimes as weapons of war in conflict by holding accountable those who fail to exercise their duties and responsibilities that their status as commanders and leaders entail. The campaign of terror perpetrated by Mr Bemba's troops in the CAR was carried out on a large scale and targeted a significant number of civilians. In this case, the number of rapes committed against civilians exceeded the number of murders. This campaign had horrific consequences and resulted in great victimization. Justice plays an important role. We must continue to strive for the prosecution and accountability of those responsible for such crimes until they are a thing of the past.
Today's outcome is also another concrete expression of my personal commitment and that of my Office to apply the full force of the Rome Statute in the fight against sexual and gender-based crimes. We will spare no efforts to continue to bring accountability for such heinous crimes in future cases. Where some may want to draw a veil over these crimes I, as Prosecutor, must and will continue to draw a line under them.
Following this pivotal ruling, the Judges will now consider the appropriate sentence for Mr Bemba. My Office will now prepare arguments for sentencing guided by the requirements of the Rome Statute.
It is my sincere hope is that this conviction brings some comfort to Mr Bemba's victims, including those subjected to sexual and gender-based crimes. I hope that it will contribute to preventing atrocity crimes in future so as to spare others from the same fate.
Make no mistake: today is an important day for international criminal justice.