8 March 2010 The International Criminal Court (ICC) today announced it is pushing back the start date of the trial of a former senior official of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who has been charged with war crimes.
The trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was set to commence on 27 April, but will now begin on 5 July. He faces charges for alleged crimes committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) between October 2002 and March 2003, including rape, murder and pillaging.
Under The Hague-based ICC’s complementarity principle, it can only intervene if there are no national proceedings against those responsible for the crimes.
Last month, Mr. Bemba’s defence team challenged the admissibility of the case against him on the grounds of respecting the complementarity between the ICC’s work and that of authorities in the CAR, arguing that he should not be tried before the Court.
It also questioned “the lack of the requisite level of gravity” as well as “an abuse of process in the case against Mr. Bemba,” according to a press release issued by the ICC.
In the announcement made today, the trial chamber said that is “in the interests of justice” to rule on the defence’s application prior to the start of the proceedings.
The Office of the Prosecutor and the victims’ legal representatives have until 29 March to submit their observations, while authorities in both the CAR and the DRC have a 19 April deadline by which to respond.
The trial chamber said today that it will issue its decision after considering observations as well as oral submissions made at a status conference scheduled to be held 27 April.
The ICC’s pre-trial chamber confirmed last summer that Mr. Bemba had the “necessary criminal intent” when in 2002 he ordered his armed group, the Mouvement de libération du Congo (MLC), into the CAR to back up embattled leader Ange-Félix Patassé. It said that MLC fighters committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during that mission, with Mr. Bemba “effectively acting as military commander.”
He was transferred to the ICC in July 2008 after being arrested by Belgian police. Last September, the Court decided that Mr. Bemba will remain in custody until the start of his trial, reversing an earlier decision to grant him temporary conditional release.
The situation in the CAR is one of four – along with the Darfur region of Sudan, the DRC and Uganda – currently under investigation by the Prosecutor of the ICC, an independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
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