The war crimes trial of the former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo is underway in The Hague.
Ex rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba is being prosecuted for alleged rapes, murders and looting committed by his troops in the neighbouring Central African Republic, in 2002 and 2003. Bemba, 48, faces two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. He denies the charges.
Prosecutors say the case will have a huge deterrent effect as it is the first time the International Criminal Court has judged a commander’s responsibility.
“The prosecutor’s office is not saying that Bemba committed crimes personally. He raped no women. We are not saying he ordered it. But he did not control his troops,” said Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
The alleged atrocities happened after Bemba’s rebel forces crossed the Obangi river to help the Central African Republic’s president and put down coup attempts.
Bemba who was arrested in Brussels two years ago is the most high profile figure to be prosecuted by the permanent court. The trial is expected to last several months.