Jean-Pierre Bemba

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Jean-Pierre Bemba
Jean-Pierre Bemba 2006, VOA.jpg
Jean-Pierre Bemba, 2006
Born (1962-11-04) 4 November 1962 (age 55)[1]
Bokada, Nord-Ubangi, DRC[1]
Nationality Democratic Republic of the Congo Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Other names Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo[1]
Known for Former Vice President of the DRC (2003–2006);[2]
Indicted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity[1]

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo (born 4 November 1962)[1] is a politician in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was one of four vice-presidents in the transitional government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 17 July 2003 to December 2006. Bemba also leads the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), a rebel group turned political party. He received the second-highest number of votes in the 2006 presidential election. In January 2007 he was elected to the Senate.

He was arrested near Brussels on 24 May 2008 on an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court.[3] He was originally charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and five counts of war crimes committed by fighters under his command,[4] in October 2010 the ICC reduced the charges to two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes.[5]

On 21 March 2016, he was convicted on these charges. On 21 June 2016, he was imprisoned on an 18-year sentence in landmark conviction at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and sexual violence. On 28 September 2016, he appealed his conviction alleging a mistrial and citing errors in the trial chamber's analysis of his superior responsibility.[6][7] His 2016 war crimes convictions were overturned following an appeal on 8 June 2018;[8] however, in September, he lost his appeal against his conviction for witness tampering.[9] He was released in June 2018, and returned to the DRC, where he was running for President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 2018 election, where he was considered to be the strongest opposition candidate.[10] However, he could be barred from the election because, under the laws of the DRC, individuals found guilty of corruption are prohibited from running for president.[9] He has stated that he is willing to back another opposition candidate.[2]


Bemba was born in Bokada, Nord-Ubangi.[1] His father, Jeannot Bemba Saolona, was a businessman who was successful under Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko, and one of his sisters is married to Mobutu's son Nzanga, who was also a candidate in the 2006 presidential election.[11]

MLC in Équateur

The MLC movement started in the Orientale Province of the DRC in 1998 at the beginning of the Second Congo War. Little by little, the movement moved into the Équateur province, and established a permanent base in Gbadolite.[12]

This region had been decimated by war and the population was living in great poverty. Équateur was under an embargo: healthcare programs, education, and any kind of social assistance had been abandoned. The population was under constant threat of bombing by government forces, and had stopped producing goods or food.

When the MLC troops arrived in Gbadolite, they secured the area and protected the population. Health centres and hospitals re-opened with the MLC securing safe passage for medicine and other supplies. The MLC worked with NGOs and the UN to reopen schools, restart agriculture, economic activity and exportations of goods. The population was able to sell coffee, corn and soya and build businesses.[13][14]

Involvement in the Central African Republic

In 2002, President Ange-Félix Patassé of the Central African Republic invited the MLC to come to his country and put down a coup attempt. Human rights activists accused MLC fighters of committing atrocities against civilians in the course of this conflict.

Vice President

In 2003 Bemba became vice-president under a peace deal.[15]

2006 Presidential election

Bemba was one of 33 candidates who ran in the Congolese presidential election on 30 July 2006. His main campaign slogan — "One Hundred Percent Congolese" — was widely perceived as an attack on frontrunner President Joseph Kabila.[16]

Bemba received substantial support in the western, Lingala-speaking portion of the country, including the capital, Kinshasa.[17] Following the vote there was significant tension as to whether Kabila would win a majority of the vote, avoiding a runoff against Bemba, who was perceived as Kabila's main opponent.[18] However, results announced on 20 August gave Kabila 44% of the vote and Bemba 20%,[17]

On 21 August 2006, while accompanied by 14 ambassadors of CIAT members (International Committee in charge of the Transition), including ambassadors from the United States of America, Britain, France (Bernard Prévost) and Belgium (Johan Swinnen (de)), and from MONUC, US diplomat William L. Swing, Bemba survived an assassination attempt by the Presidential Guard bombing his residence in Gombe. The ambassadors were forced to seek refuge in a cellar.[19][better source needed][20] Kabila and Bemba faced each other in a second round, held on October 29. The electoral commission announced the official results on November 15, naming Kabila the winner with 58.05% of the vote; Bemba's supporters have alleged fraud.[21]

On November 27, 2006, the Supreme Court of the DRC rejected the fraud charges brought by Bemba, and confirmed Kabila as the new elected Congolese President.[22] A day later, Bemba said that he disagreed with the court's decision, but that "in the greater national interest and to preserve peace and to save the country from chaos and violence", he would participate in the system by leading the political opposition.[23][24] He did not attend Kabila's swearing-in ceremony on December 6. On December 8, the MLC announced that Bemba would run for a Senate seat from Kinshasa in the January 2007 senatorial election,[25] and he succeeded in winning a seat.[26]

March 2007 violence

A further attempt on Bemba's life in March 2007 led to an outbreak of fighting near Bemba's residence.[27] A number of soldiers and civilians were reported killed. Bemba called for a ceasefire and negotiations and took refuge in the South African embassy.[28] As fighting continued on March 23, it was announced that a warrant for Bemba's arrest had been issued, accusing him of high treason.[29][30] Although Bemba enjoyed immunity as a senator, the country's chief prosecutor said that he would ask parliament to remove it.

On March 26, Kabila said that security could not be guaranteed through negotiation and referred to the importance of restoring order. Bemba warned of a potential for dictatorship and forshadowed his retreat into exile, citing security concerns.[31]

Late in the month it was reported that Bemba planned to travel to Portugal for treatment of a broken leg; he had already received treatment for his leg there in previous months. The Portuguese ambassador subsequently said on March 30 that Bemba was expected to go to Portugal for treatment, but was not going into exile there.[32] On April 9, the Senate approved the trip, for a period of 60 days.[33][34] On April 11, Bemba left the South African embassy and was taken to the airport by U.N. MONUC forces, then flown out of the country to Portugal,[35] along with his wife and children.[34] On April 12, the attorney general, Tshimanga Mukeba, said that he had asked the Senate to remove Bemba's immunity.[36]

Following the outbreak of violence in March, Bemba's party, the MLC, said that it was being targeted by the government through arrests and intimidation, and that its headquarters was occupied by government forces.[37] On April 13, the party suspended its participation in the National Assembly due to this intimidation and insecurity.[38]

In the first half of June, it was reported that, despite the expiration of the 60 days prescribed by the Senate, Bemba would not return to the DRC due to safety concerns.[39] According to MLC executive secretary Thomas Luhaka (fr), Bemba was medically able to return and take part in politics again, and Luhaka called for a political solution to facilitate his return. Without Senate permission to be absent, he would automatically lose his seat if absent from over a quarter of Senate sessions, unless the absences were justified.[40] On June 15, the Senate extended Bemba's permitted absence until July 31, following a request from Bemba in a June 12 letter in asking for more time. In this letter he expressed a readiness to return and take part in politics, but also expressed concerns about his safety.[41][42]

On July 13, Bemba met with Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development & Humanitarian Aid. According to Michel, Bemba "intends to give the presidential majority the benefit of the doubt" and would not do or say anything "that could be taken as an attempt at destabilisation".[43] He did not return by the deadline on July 31, with a spokesman citing continued security concerns; the Senate was then in recess until September 15,[44] and Senate President Kengo wa Dondo said that Bemba would not be penalized for being away during this period because the Senate was not in session.[45] In a statement published on August 1, Bemba said that he wanted to return before September 15.[46]

It was announced on September 7 that Bemba had met with National Assembly President Vital Kamerhe in Portugal to discuss his potential return.[47] In November 2007, he visited Belgium and met with Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht on November 5.[48]

In a March 2008 interview, Bemba said that he was in "forced exile" and that it seemed the government was moving towards a dictatorship.[49]

Arrest and trial

Poster announcing a protest in Brussels to support Bemba after his arrest.

In March 2003, Central African president Ange-Félix Patassé was ousted, and the government that replaced him pressed charges against Patassé and Bemba in September 2004. International arrest warrants were issued, but because the new government was unable to have Bemba arrested, the matter was referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). On May 22, 2007, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo decided to open investigations into crimes committed in the Central African Republic.[50]

On 23 May 2008, a pre-trial chamber of the ICC found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Bemba bore individual criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic between 25 October 2002 and 15 March 2003, and issued a sealed warrant for his arrest.[1] He was charged with five counts of war crimes (murder, rape, torture, pillaging, and outrages upon personal dignity) and three counts of crimes against humanity (murder, rape and torture).[4]

On May 24, 2008, Bemba was arrested near Brussels.[3][51][52] He was handed over to the ICC on 3 July 2008 and transferred to its detention centre in the Hague.[4] He was the only person arrested in connection with the ICC's investigation in the Central African Republic.[51] The Supreme Court of the Central African Republic found no basis to pursue cases against Bemba and former CAR President Ange-Félix Patassé.[53]

The MLC denounced the arrest and requested that Parliament do likewise; it also asked that Parliament call on the Belgian government to respect Bemba's immunity as a senator under Congolese law. MLC official Delly Sesanga (fr) accused ICC prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo of trying "to interfere with the internal businesses of Congo", describing such interference as "unacceptable"; Sesanga also said that, although the prosecution claimed Bemba was a flight risk, there had been no indication of that. More than 2,000 supporters of Bemba protested in Kinshasa on May 27, demanding that he be freed.[54]

Bemba's defense argued that the legal procedures applied to Bemba's case were irregular, but on July 1 a Belgian court rejected this argument, making it possible to transfer Bemba to the ICC. Meanwhile, MLC official Fyfy Osambia argued that "the matter has been politicised" and that people "close to President Kabila" were responsible for the complaint against Bemba. He said that Bemba should be allowed to go before the ICC without being a prisoner.[55]

Following the Belgian court ruling, Bemba was transferred to the ICC in The Hague on July 3. In a hearing on July 4, Bemba made his first appearance at the ICC, and the beginning of a hearing dealing with confirmation of the charges against him was set for November 4.

On 15 June 2009, an ICC pre-trial chamber confirmed some of the charges against Bemba and committed him to trial.[56] However, the judges did not find that there was sufficient evidence to try him for torture and outrages upon personal dignity.[56] On 8 July 2009, Bemba was granted a temporary release to attend his father's funeral in Brussels.[57]

On 2 December 2009 the ICC ruled that Bemba was a flight risk and must remain in custody until his trial.[58]

The trial of Bemba began on 22 November 2010[59][60] and lasted four years. The prosecutor was Fatou Bensouda. Two more years passed before the verdict was given.[61]

On 21 March 2016, he was convicted on two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes.[61] This marked the first time the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted someone of sexual violence.[62]

On 21 June 2016, the ICC sentenced Bemba to 18 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC).[63] In March 2017 he was sentenced to an extra year in prison and fined 300,000 euros ($324,000) by the ICC for interfering with witnesses in his trial.[64]

Conviction overturned

On 28 September 2016, Bemba served the ICC appeals chamber with an appeal against his 18-year conviction citing numerous procedural and legal errors in the judgment, and alleging a mistrial.[7][6] This conviction was overturned on 8 June 2018[65] by Judge Christine Van den Wyngaert. She said he cannot be held responsible for the actions of his men, and that the lower court "ignored significant testimonial evidence that Bemba's ability to investigate and punish crimes in the CAR was limited".[15]

On 4 May 2017 he had also filed an appeal against his conviction for interfering with witnesses, alleging factual and legal errors on the part of the trial chamber, and illegal investigative activity by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.[citation needed] On August 1, 2018, Bemba returned to the DRC after 11 years of exile and imprisonment.[66]

On 1 August 2018, Jean-Pierre Bemba returned to DR Congo from prison to run for president.[67] Bemba is running for President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 2018 election, and is considered to be the strongest opposition candidate.[10] As of August 2018, his candidacy is being reviewed by the country's Independent National Electoral Commission.[10]

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Situation In The Central African Republic In The Case Of The Prosecutor V. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo — Under Seal Urgent Warrant Of Arrest For Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo". International Criminal Court. May 23, 2008. ICC-01/05-01/08-1-tENG-Corr. Retrieved 3 June 2017.
  2. ^ a b "DR Congo former warlords says he would back opposition candidate". 98.4 Capital FM through Agence France-Presse. 17 September 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  3. ^ a b International Criminal Court (24 May 2008). Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo arrested for crimes allegedly committed in the Central African Republic Archived 27 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on 25 May 2008.
  4. ^ a b c International Criminal Court (3 July 2008). Surrender of Jean-Pierre Bemba to the International Criminal Court Archived 8 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on 3 July 2008.
  5. ^ Staff (19 October 2010) "ICC to proceed with Bemba war crimes trial" BBC News
  6. ^ a b "Bemba Lays Out Grounds for Appeal Against ICC Conviction". Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  7. ^ a b "Public Redacted Version of Appellant's document in support of the appeal". Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  8. ^ "Former Congolese Vice President Cleared Of War Crimes Conviction On Appeal". National Public Radio {NPR). Retrieved 2018-06-11.
  9. ^ a b "ICC sentences DRC's Jean-Pierre Bemba over witness tampering". Al Jazeera. 17 September 2018. Archived from the original on 17 September 2018.
  10. ^ a b c "Joseph Kabila says he will not run again in Congo". The Economist. Retrieved 2018-08-08.
  11. ^ Kurt Wagner, "Run-off ballot in the Congo", World Socialist Web Site, 25 August 2006.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b "Jean-Pierre Bemba: Congo warlord's conviction overturned". BBC. June 8, 2018.
  16. ^ "Vote Count Continues in Congo Election", Washington Post, 15 August 2006.
  17. ^ a b "Frontrunners need alliances for 2nd round of presidential polls", IRIN, 22 August 2006.
  18. ^ "Tension ahead of election results", IRIN, 18 August 2006.
  19. ^ fr:Tensions Kabila-Bemba en 2006 et 2007
  20. ^ "Les partisans de Kabila et Bemba s'affrontent dans Kinshasa". 23 August 2006. Retrieved 8 June 2018 – via
  21. ^ BBC News (2006-11-15). "Kabila named DR Congo poll winner". BBC News, 15 November 2006. Retrieved from
  22. ^ "DRC: Supreme Court validates Kabila presidential victory", IRIN, November 28, 2006.
  23. ^ "DRC: Bemba condemns poll ruling but ready to lead opposition", IRIN, November 28, 2006.
  24. ^ "Bemba accepts DR Congo poll loss", BBC News, November 28, 2006.
  25. ^ "Bemba to run for Senate", AFP (IOL), December 8, 2006.
  26. ^ "Former DR Congo vice president wins seat in Senate", Xinhua (People's Daily Online), January 21, 2007.
  27. ^ "Sustained gunfire reported in Congo's capital", Associated Press (IOL), March 22, 2007.
  28. ^ "DR Congo rebel chief seeks refuge", BBC News, March 23, 2007.
  29. ^ "Bemba: Wanted for high treason", Reuters (IOL), March 23, 2007.
  30. ^ "Warrant Issued for Former Warlord as Congo Fighting Continues", Associated Press (FOX News), March 23, 2007.
  31. ^ "Kabila defends use of force as clashes go on", AFP (IOL), March 26, 2007.
  32. ^ "Portugal accepts Bemba but not for exile", Reuters (IOL), March 30, 2007.
  33. ^ "Bemba 'free to leave' DR Congo" Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine., Al Jazeera, April 10, 2007.
  34. ^ a b "Bemba arrives in Portugal", AFP (IOL), April 12, 2007.
  35. ^ "Bemba leaves DR Congo", Al Jazeera, April 11, 2007.
  36. ^ "DRC seeks to lift Bemba's immunity", DPA (IOL), April 12, 2007.
  37. ^ "DRC opposition party hits out at government", AFP (IOL), April 9, 2007.
  38. ^ "Bemba's party concerned about security", Reuters (IOL), April 14, 2007.
  39. ^ John James, "DR Congo's Bemba to stay abroad", BBC News, June 10, 2007.
  40. ^ "We want Bemba back, say DRC opposition", AFP (IOL), June 11, 2007.
  41. ^ "RDC: Jean-Pierre Bemba autorisé à prolonger son séjour au Portugal" Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine., AFP (, June 15, 2007 (in French).
  42. ^ "Senate extends to 31 July Bemba’s stay in Portugal" Archived 29 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine., African Press Agency, June 16, 2007.
  43. ^ "Bemba wants to return to DRC", AFP (IOL), July 14, 2007.
  44. ^ Lubunga Bya'Ombe, "Bemba not ready to return to DRC", Reuters (IOL), August 1, 2007.
  45. ^ "DR Congo: Bemba’s sick leave expires abroad, but no penalty as senator" Archived 29 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine., African Press Agency, August 1, 2007.
  46. ^ "Jean-Pierre Bemba souhaite revenir en RDC avant le 15 septembre" Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine., AFP (, August 1, 2007 (in French).
  47. ^ "Le président du parlement de RDCongo a rencontré Jean-Pierre Bemba au Portugal" Archived 10 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine., AFP (, September 7, 2007 (in French).
  48. ^ "Jean-Pierre Bemba en visite « privée » en Belgique depuis plusieurs jours" Archived 31 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine.,, November 7, 2007 (in French).
  49. ^ "'DRC slipping into dictatorship'", Sapa-AFP (IOL), March 22, 2008.
  50. ^ "Central African Republic: ICC Opens Investigation (Human Rights Watch, 22-5-2007)".
  51. ^ a b "Former Congo rebel leader arrested for war crimes" Archived 28 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine., Xinhua, May 25, 2008.
  52. ^ "Former DR Congo leader arrested", BBC World News, 24 May 2008.
  53. ^ "Hague court probes CAR 'crimes'", BBC World News, 22 May 2007.
  54. ^ "Uproar in DRC after Bemba is arrested", The Star (IOL), May 28, 2008, page 4.
  55. ^ "Belgian court clears way for Bemba transfer to war crimes court" Archived 7 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine., AFP, July 1, 2008.
  56. ^ a b International Criminal Court (15 June 2009). Pre-Trial Chamber II commits Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo to trial Archived 25 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on 12 July 2009.
  57. ^ "Former Congo VP attends funeral ahead of war crimes trial". Agence France-Presse (8 July 2009). Retrieved 12 July 2009.
  58. ^ "RFI - ICC rule that Bemba must stay in custody".
  59. ^ "Central Africa: The Trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba". 19 November 2010 – via AllAfrica.
  60. ^ "War crimes trial of Congolese militia leader begins at International Criminal Court".
  61. ^ a b "Congo politician guilty in first ICC trial to focus on rape as a war crime". The Guardian. 21 March 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  62. ^ Kevin Sieff (March 21, 2016). "In historic ruling, international court cites rape in war crimes conviction of ex-Congo official". Washington Post.
  63. ^ "Former Congo vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba sentenced to 18 years for war crimes". The Times. 21 June 2016. Retrieved 21 June 2016.
  64. ^ "ICC gives former Congo VP Bemba extra year in prison". Fox News. 22 March 2017.
  65. ^ Bowcott, Owen (2018-06-08). "Jean-Pierre Bemba's war crimes conviction overturned". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-06-11.
  66. ^ "DR Congo crowds welcome ex-warlord". BBC News. 2018-08-01. Retrieved 2018-08-01.
  67. ^ Burke, Jason (2018-08-01). "Former warlord returns to DR Congo from prison to run for president". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-08-01.

Further reading

  • O'Regan, Fiona (2012). "Prosecutor vs. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo: The Cumulative Charging Principle, Gender-Based Violence, and Expressivism". Georgetown Journal of International Law. 43 (4): 1323–1360. ISSN 1550-5200.

External links

  • ICC Website for Jean-Pierre Bemba
  • Al Jazeera interview with Bemba, August 3, 2007.
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