Situation in the Central African Republic

Central African RepublicThe Central African Republic (CAR) has suffered decades of army revolts, coups and rebellions since it gained independence from France in 1960. The peak of violence from 2002-2003 during an armed conflict between the government and rebel forces was marked by the large number of acts of sexual violence committed against the civilian population.

Rebel forces led by the former Chief of Staff of the CAR army, General François Bozizé, mounted an offensive to overthrow then President, Ange-Félix Patassé. In order to quell the rebellion, Patassé requested the militia combatants of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo (Movement for the Liberation of Congo) (MLC) led by former vice-President of neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, to enter the country and to put down the rebellion directed by Bozizé. The latter subsequently took power after a coup on 15 March 2003.

International Criminal Court Proceedings

On 22 December 2004, the authorities of CAR referred the situation in the country to the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The CAR is a State Party to the ICC having ratified the Rome Statute on 3 October 2001. The government has provided the OTP with information in relation to the allegations of crimes and to proceedings held by the national judiciary. Significant communications were also presented by NGOs and international organisations regarding alleged crimes.

Following an analysis of the situation, on 22 May 2007 Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the ICC, announced its decision to initiate an investigation in the CAR. The Prosecutor conducted a thorough investigation into serious crimes committed after 1 July 2002 (the day the Rome Statute entered into force). In particular, close attention was given to the many allegations of sexual violence.

On 24 May 2008, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Commander-in-chief of the MLC, became the first person to be arrested before the ICC concerning the situation in CAR.

The ICC issued a warrant of arrest against him on 23 May 2008 for war crimes and crimes against humanity that he allegedly committed in CAR from 25 October 2002 to 15 March 2003. He was arrested in the suburbs of Brussels, Belgium, on 24 May 2008.The Confirmation of Charges hearing in the case against Bemba by the Pre-Trial Chamber II took place from 12- 15 January 2009.

Bemba is alleged to be criminally responsible for two counts of crimes against humanity, murder and rape, and three counts of war crimes: murder, rape and pillaging.

The trial was initially scheduled to commence on 27 April 2010, but the Defence challenged the admissibility of the case based on the ‘complementarity’ principle of the Rome Statute. According to this founding principle of the ICC, proceedings against an accused may only take place if there are no national proceedings underway against the accused for the same crimes.

On 8 March 2010Trial Chamber III postponed the date of commencement of the trial until Monday 5 July 2010.

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