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Jean-Pierre Bemba ICC convicts Congolese politician on Central African war crimes

The case is notable as the first in which the ICC has found a high official directly responsible for the crimes of his subordinates as well as the first to focus primarily on crimes of sexual violence committed in war.

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Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, speaks at the opening of his trial in The Hague November 22, 2010. REUTERS/Michael Kooren play Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, speaks at the opening of his trial in The Hague November 22, 2010. REUTERS/Michael Kooren (Reuters)
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Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba became the highest-ranking political leader to face a verdict from the International Criminal Court on Monday, found guilty of a 2002-2003 campaign of rape and murder in Central African Republic.

Pronouncing the verdict, presiding judge Sylvia Steiner said Bemba had failed to discipline his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers as they rampaged across the neighbouring country.

The case is notable as the first in which the ICC has found a high official directly responsible for the crimes of his subordinates as well as the first to focus primarily on crimes of sexual violence committed in war.

"MLC soldiers by force knowingly and intentionally invaded the bodies of the victims by penetrating the victims' anuses, vaginas or other bodily openings with their penises," said Steiner, reading from an unusually graphic judgement.

Bemba, dressed in a suit and a maroon tie, at times shaking his head vigorously as Steiner read through the litany of crimes. He is expected to appeal his conviction, a process which could take several more years.

The judge said Bemba, a former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, had had practical and formal control over his soldiers during their intervention in support of Central African Republic's then-president Ange-Felix Patasse.

Judges found that he had failed to discipline soldiers despite knowing that they had committed crimes, including the rape of girls aged as young as 10. His soldiers had carried out acts of pillage to supplement their meagre wages, Steiner said.

She ordered that he be held in custody pending sentencing at a later date.

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