Desire for justice: Reactions to Bemba verdict
With Gervais Bodagay
Anticipation was high in Central African Republic (CAR) in the lead-up to the ICC verdict in the case The Prosecuror v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo. To make sure communities affected by the 2002/2003 crimes could have access to the Judges’ decision in this case, we ramped up our Outreach efforts, in face-to-face meetings, via NGOs and other partners as well as on community radio. We explained what the possible outcomes could be, so they would know what to expect, and collected their views and concerns to share with the rest of the Court.
The case was the first before the ICC dealing with sexual and gender-based crimes. This situation was the first the ICC investigated in which, according to the ICC Prosecutor, “allegations of sexual crimes far outnumber alleged killings (…) Victims described being raped in public; being attacked by multiple perpetrators; being raped in the presence of family members; and being abused in other ways if they resisted their attackers”.
The Office of the Prosecutor started investigations in CAR in 2007, and the Bemba trial began in 2010. The verdict was thus long awaited.
And finally, on 21 March 2016, the moment came: Mr Bemba was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as a military commander who failed to exercise control properly. Finally, there has been justice for those whose loved ones were murdered, and those who suffered from crimes of rape and pillaging.
Following the verdict, we were together with 40 journalists in Bangui (CAR) to ensure they could access and report on the verdict. The journalists themselves expressed satisfaction: “This verdict is unprecedented and will serve as an example for warlords in the Central African Republic” said one journalist, while another one highlighted that: “At last, the ICC Judges provided justice”.
The journalists were also eager to know if other persons responsible for serious crimes against the civilian population in CAR will be judged before the ICC.