Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today welcomed the judgement issued by the International Criminal Court in the case of former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba.
“The judgment of the Court reaffirms that impunity will not be tolerated and sends a strong signal that commanders will be held responsible for international crimes committed by those under their authority,” the Secretary-General said in a statement.
Mr. Bemba had been the commander-in-chief of the former Congolese rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, as well as a vice president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the 2003-2006 transition.
In a ruling issued yesterday, the ICC found him guilty on five charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including rape, murder and pillage, committed in 2002-2003 in neighbouring Central African Republic. More than 5,000 victims were granted the right to participate in the proceedings.
The case was the first before the ICC to focus on sexual violence as a weapon of war, as well as on a senior military official whose forces carried out the atrocities – even if he had not directly ordered them to do so.
In his statement, Mr. Ban called the judgement “a significant step towards bringing justice to the victims of these horrendous crimes in the Central African Republic.”
He also highlighted the critical need to eradicate sexual- and gender-based violence by addressing their widespread and systematic use as a weapon of war.
Mr. Ban's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, today said that the conviction of Mr. Bemba “sends a message to all that irrespective of your position in society, you will face the wrath of law.”
Her office has been working with the Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central Africa Republic, among other countries, to eliminate the scourge of sexual violence in conflict.
The head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, also welcomed the landmark conviction as “a clear message that the international community will hold accountable those who fail to exercise their responsibilities as commanders to prevent and punish the use of sexual and gender-based crimes as weapons of war.”
In a statement yesterday, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, said that he hoped “this judgement will act as a powerful deterrent against future serious human rights violations and abuses not just in CAR, but everywhere they are committed.”
He added that it should also help make perpetrators understand that many victims and their supporters will never abandon their search for justice and accountability.