Saturday, August 15, 2009



Amsterdam, Friday

The International Criminal Court ordered the conditional release of Congolese rebel warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba pending trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bemba is accused of leading rebels from the Democratic Republic of Congo in a campaign of torture, rape and murder in the neighbouring Central African Republic. Bemba, who was arrested in Belgium in May last year, denies all the charges.

The court said it could not release Bemba until it had decided which country he would stay in until his trial began.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement he was appealing against the decision by the court, the world’s first permanent court established to try war crimes.

On June 15, Bemba, the highest-profile suspect so far brought before the ICC, was ordered to stand trial on two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes.

Bemba’s three previous requests for release pending trial were all denied.

The court said it was no longer necessary to detain Bemba to ensure he appears at trial, to keep him from obstructing the hearings or to keep him from committing new war crimes.

Moreno-Ocampo said Bemba should stay in prison to ensure that victims and witnesses could be sure a trial would take place, and their safety be guaranteed. Appeal arguments are scheduled for August 24.

The court said it needed to conduct hearings to decide among the six countries Bemba has requested he be released to –– Belgium, Portugal, France, Germany, Italy or South Africa.

What Families Say

Among other things, the court said it needed to know whether the countries would have any problems ensuring Bemba’s security or facilitating the guarantees he has offered the court.

Those guarantees include offering to hand in his passport, presenting himself to police daily and keeping an open round-trip ticket from the host country to The Hague.

In Kinshasa, Bemba’s MLC welcomed the ruling on his release.

"We’re relieved, because since the beginning of this affair, we have always said that the prosecution case has no substance and is essentially a political affair," MLC secretary-general Francois Muamba told AFP.

Belgium said Bemba’s presence in the country could pose "public security problems" among its Congolese expatriate community of divergent political opinions.

France said through a foreign affairs spokesman that it was "not in a position to accommodate Jean-Pierre Bemba", while South Africa’s foreign ministry said the country "has not made any offer to host Bemba".