ICC extends Congolese Bemba’s time in prison over false evidence

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has sentenced the former Congolese Vice-President, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, to another year in prison and about USD 325,000 (1.2 billion Shillings) in fines for interfering with his trial.

Judges ordered the that the sentence be served consecutively to Bemba’s existing 18 year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003. In their ruling, the judges ordered the fine to be paid within three months to the ICC and then transferred to the Trust Fund for Victims.

Bemba, along with four other people, was found guilty for intentionally and corruptly influencing 14 defence witnesses, and presenting their false evidence to the court.”  Bemba was also found guilty of soliciting the giving of false testimony by the 14 defence witnesses and attempting to corruptly influence two defence witnesses.

These charges were in addition to the main ruling issued in March 2016, in which the ICC found Bemba guilty beyond reasonable doubt of a devastating campaign of rape, murder and torture in the Central African Republic.

The alleged acts took place between October 2002 and March 2003 when Bemba’s rebels operating as the ‘Mouvement de Libération du Congo’ (the Movement for the Liberation of Congo) helped to put down a coup against Ange-Felix Patasse, the former president of the Central African Republic.

It was the first time the court applied the principle of command or superior responsibility to convict someone, who was far from the battleground while his militia committed its crimes. Bemba was a person effectively acting as a military commander with effective authority and control over the forces that committed the crimes.

Court heard that Bemba’s men were involved in the gang rape of women and girls as young as 10, forced sons to rape their mothers in front of their fathers, raped wives in front of their husbands, and children in front of their parents. The judges found that he was culpable for having “failed to prevent” the crimes committed by his subordinates, and for doing nothing to punish the offenses.

Bemba is already serving 16 years for murder as a war crime, 16 years for murder as a crime against humanity, 18 years for rape as a war crime, 18 years of imprisonment for rape as a crime against humanity and 16 years for pillaging as a war crime.

ICC disregards Ongwen’s traumatic childhood as they prepare for first trial

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court have acknowledged that Dominic Ongwen was abducted as child and conscripted into the ranks of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) ranks.

The prosecutors led by Fatou Bensouda, however, told judges at The Hague-based court that this would not exonerate Ongwen from prosecution.

They argued that Ongwen, now in his 40s, rose through the LRA ranks and became one of the most senior commanders, a position he could have exploited to denounce rebellion.

“The evidence shows that Dominic Ongwen was a murderer and a rapist,” submitted Bensouda as Ongwen’s long awaited trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity started today.

The prosecutors said they have sufficient evidence, including voice recordings from radio communications, which implicate Ongwen for crimes he committed in four different internally displaced people’s camps in Gulu, Amuru and Oyam districts in Northern Uganda.

Prosecutors further say about 30 former abductees who were under Ongwen’s command are available to testify as witnesses to the court.   She said these represent large numbers of the civilian population that went through torture and suffering in the hands of Dominic Ongwen.

Earlier, Ongwen had pleaded not guilty to all the seventy counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, noting that it was LRA not Ongwen that committed the atrocities.To this, Bensouda noted that while Ongwen’s own traumatic past as a 14-year-old abductee could be a mitigating factor for judges considering a sentence if he is convicted, it cannot begin to amount to a defense or a reason not to hold him accountable for his decisions.

She said that the choice to embrace the murderous violence used by the LRA and make it a hallmark of the attacks carried out by his soldiers was entirely his.

The burden of proof, however, is on the ICC prosecutors to prove Ongwen’s involvement in all the 70 charges of crimes allegedly committed in the four case areas between 2002 and 2005.

Ongwen’s defense team is expected respond to the accusations in tomorrow’s session that will mark an end to the opening of the trial.

With Ongwen pleading not guilty, court will engage psychiatric experts to determine the mental soundness of the accused before deliberating further on his alleged criminal responsibilities as an individual within the LRA ranks

The ICC outreach office and the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) set up several live-streaming points in in Lukodi, Pajule and Odek villages in Northern Uganda as well as in Kampala.



ICC to ensure atmost protection to witnesses in Dominic Ongwen case

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has reaffirmed that utmost protection will be granted to all witness in the trial against former warlord Dominic Ongwen that opens tomorrow in The Hague.

ICC Registrar Herman Von Hebel says they are working jointly with security authorities in Uganda to protect witnesses as soon as threats are detected and reported on their lives.

Over 4000 victims of the LRA-led rebellion in Northern Uganda have been granted status by the court to participate in the proceedings. However, it remains unclear how many of these will be called upon to testify against Ongwen.

Hebel told a press conference in Kampala this morning that ICC has put in place all risk assessment tools and necessary measures to ensure that witnesses are safe. This also includes moving witnesses away from the areas where they live and as a last resort, away from the country.

Dominic Ongwen, the former commander of the Sinia Brigade, faces 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The confirmed charges concern crimes allegedly committed during attacks in Pajule IDP camp in October 2003, Odek IDP camp on April 2004, Lukodi IDP camp on May 2004, and Abok IDP camps in June 2004.

They also cover sexual and gender-based crimes directly and indirectly committed by Dominic Ongwen and crimes of conscription and use in hostilities of children under the age of 15 allegedly committed in northern Uganda between 1 July 2002 and 31 December 2005.

Ongwen was surrendered to the ICC on 16 January 2015 pursuant to an ICC warrant of arrest and transferred to the ICC custody on 21 January 2015.

The trial will be conducted by Trial Chamber IX, a panel composed of Judge Bertram Schmitt from Germany, Judge Peter Kovacs from Hungary and Judge Raul C. Pangalangan from Philippines.




ICC puts Uganda in the spotlight for not arresting Omar Al- Bashir

The International Criminal court-ICC has formally asked the Ugandan Government to explain its failure to arrest and surrender Sudan’s president, Omar Al-Bashir for trial. Bashir, who is wanted for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur was in Uganda on May 12th to witness the swearing in of President Yoweri Museveni.

During the ceremony, Museveni described the ICC as a bunch of useless people, saying they had withdrawn support from the court. As a result, the ICC registry sent a verbal note to Ugandan authorities reminding them of their obligation to arrest and surrender President Omar Al Bashir. According to Phakiso Mochochoko, the ICC head of Jurisdiction, complementarity and Cooperation division, Uganda as a member of the Rome Statute is obliged to arrest and detain any suspect wanted by the court.

Mochochoko says they want Uganda to explain why it failed to comply and arrest Bashir in accordance with its obligations under the Rome Statute. “The judges  seek clarification from the relevant state(s), and then will render their ruling on whether a State Party has failed its obligations under the Rome Statute and in so doing prevented the Court from exercising its functions and powers under the Rome Statute” Mochochoko states.

Mochochoko however says this judicial process is ongoing and it is premature to speculate on its final outcome at this stage. He says that having ratified the Rome Statute, Uganda must also refrain from conduct that undermines the object and purpose of that treaty. According to Machochoko, It is particularly disturbing that a number of suspects indicted by the Court remain at large and even more disturbing when suspects travel to State Party countries without being arrested as is the case here with Uganda.

When contacted on the matter, the deputy Government spokesperson Colonel Shaban Bantariza told URN that the Government will answer ICC accordingly.


Ex-DRC Vice President Jean Pierre Bemba faces verdict

The International Criminal Court (ICC) will today deliver for its verdict in a case in which the former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Jean-Pierre Bemba is accused of murder, rape and pillaging.

Bemba was charged with five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed by his army; Movement for the Liberation of Congo in Central African Republic.

The alleged acts took place between October 2002 and March 2003 when Bemba’s rebels helped to put down a coup against Ange-Felix Patasse, the former president of the Central African Republic.

During the hearing, the ICC trial chamber heard Bemba’s forces committed widespread rapes with complete impunity during the conflict, raped victims in front of their family members and sometimes forced one family member to rape another.

“Sons were sometimes forced to rape their mothers in front of their fathers. MLC troops raped wives in front of their husbands. They raped children in front of their parents,” the trail chamber was told in one of its hearings.  Bemba pleaded not guilty to the charges.

A statement issued by the ICC indicates that the verdict will be read out in public.

“While the Prosecution must prove the guilt of the accused, the Trial Chamber will convict the accused only if it is satisfied that the charges have been proven beyond reasonable doubt,” the statement reads.

The Chamber is composed of Brazilian Judge Sylvia Steiner, Joyce Aluoch from Kenya and Kuniko Ozaki from Japan.

The trial in the Bemba case started on 22 November 2010 and the submission of evidence in the case was closed on 7 April 2014.