Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bemba Trial Marks Crucial Point in International Criminal Court’s History

The Economist: International Justice: In the Dock, but for What?
The Washington Post: Witness at War Crimes Trial Weeps Over Girl’s Rape
The Guardian: Bemba Trial: The International Criminal Court Takes on Gender Crimes

CNN: Militia Leader Accused of Crimes Against Humanity Goes on Trial
International Criminal Court: Situation in the Central African Republic
Wikipedia: International Criminal Court

Last Monday marked the start of the long awaited trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo in The Hague, Netherlands. Bemba was formerly the vice president of the Democratic Republican of Congo. He is on trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for both war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, pillaging, and rape. These alleged crimes did not take place in Congo, but in the bordering country of the Central African Republic from October of 2002 to March of 2003.

International human rights groups have accused Bemba, the leader of the political party and militia known as the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), of using the MLC to kill, rape, and pillage civilians in the Central African Republic in order to assist the Central African Republic’s then president in his fight against rebel forces. Bemba, as the MLC’s commander in chief, is accused of failing to prevent and punish the MLC’s war crimes and atrocities. This is the ICC’s first case trying the commander of a military force for failing to responsibly handle his troops.

Bemba’s trial marks a critical point in the ICC’s history. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court treaty established the ICC in July of 2002. There are currently 114 countries that have either signed or ratified the treaty, including the United States. The main purpose of the ICC is to provide an international tribunal that has jurisdiction over four different types of crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression. Since its creation in 2002, there have only been a handful of trials in the ICC. Critics of the tribunal condemn its slowness, the expensive natural of its operations, and even its credibility. The Bemba trial is a chance for the ICC to silence some critics by holding a fair and speedy trial in the midst of high publicity.

The Bemba trial also marks a significant point in history, because it is the first trial in which sex crimes are part of the main focus. Bemba’s trial is an opportunity for the ICC to prove it is serious about the prosecution of sex crimes. The tribunal needs to set a firm precedent that sex crimes will not be tolerated in order to discourage their occurrence in the future.

Sex crimes have been historically used to demoralize and terrorize civilians into submission. Sexual violence in conflicts usually results in increased numbers of AIDS, gang rapes, and unwanted pregnancies. Often victims of sex crimes are wrongfully blamed within their cultural groups. If successful, the International Criminal Court’s trial of Bemba should be a step in the right direction for the prosecution, punishment, and declination of sexual violence in times of conflict. Hopefully, it will also bring more peace to the Central African Republic and its survivors, many of whom have been waiting almost a decade for justice.

1. Do you think there should be an international tribunal, like the ICC, to try crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and the crime of aggression? Why or why not?

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