By Justice Hub
Last week, a member of the Justice Hub community asked several questions regarding the case of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the Congolese politician accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. We put the questions to Taegin Reisman of the Open Society Justice Initiative, a JH partner monitoring the Bemba trial at the International Criminal Court.
JH: How can someone be tried for effective control of troops who are in another country?
What the prosecution has been trying to show is command responsibility, which means that Bemba acted as the effective military commander over the MLC, knew about the crimes being committed and failed to prevent of repress those crimes . To prove effective control, the prosecution brought evidence that Bemba was giving operational orders remotely, mainly through radios and satellite telephones, to commanders in the field. The prosecution says it has evidence – call logs with dates and lengths of calls – from Bemba.
JH Is that a key point of the trial? Whether proving these calls were made and received? Does that prove effective control?
Yes, but the prosecution is also arguing that those forces in the field actually responded to the orders given in the call. They highlighted one day towards the end of the conflict in March 2003 when the MLC troops were waiting for orders from Bemba to pull out. According to the prosecution, once that contact from Bemba came, the forces retreated.
JH Bemba was a very influential politician in the DRC. It’s rather confusing that he’s on trial for what happened in the CAR. Is there mention of his Congolese role during the trial?
That’s one of the arguments of the defence. During closing arguments, they said that the MLC troops weren’t under his control. And that while it was going on, Bemba was a major player as a former presidential candidate and as the head of the MLC political party. The defence also argues Bemba was trying to implement a peace treaty and that he had control over a very large area of Congo -roughly the size of France – so he was busy with domestic matters and wouldn’t be giving operational orders to commanders in theCAR.
JH Why is it that no one else from the CAR is on trial? What about the big players – the former president Ange-Félixe Patassé and his challenger François Bozizé?
Really good question. The prosecution would say that they didn’t have the evidence from witnesses or other documentation that other troops or rebels were committing crimes. The evidence they had pointed to the MLC troops – through language, clothing and other identifying factors. Patassé’s name has been brought up many times during the trial. He died a few years ago, so it’s impossible to hold him accountable. Part of the original charges against Bemba were not against him as a commander but as a co-perpetrator along with Patassé. So it was an angle that the prosecutor had started to investigate. However, those charges were not confirmed, and the judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber had directed the prosecution to amend the charges to include command responsibility. The judges ultimately only confirmed the charges relating to Bemba’s mode of liability under command responsibility.
For a timeline on the case against Jean-Pierre Bemba, click here
For an overview of the case against Jean-Pierre Bemba, click here