Amnesty International has described the conviction of former Congolese leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba, of war crimes by the International Criminal Court, ICC, as a historic step forward for victims of sexual violence.
Mr. Bemba, a former Vice- President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was accused of failing to stop his rebel fighters from mass killings and rapes in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003.
Mr. Bemba had sent 1,000 fighters to CAR to help stop an attempted coup.
The court heard horrific accounts of how for five months fighters of Mr Bemba’s rebel group, Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) killed hundreds of civilians, raped women and looted.
In one of such accounts a man, his wife, his daughters and his granddaughter were all gang-raped by militiamen.
He will be in custody until he is sentenced, though he is expected to appeal the conviction.
“Today’s unanimous guilty verdict by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Jean-Pierre Bemba is an historic moment in the battle for justice and accountability for victims of sexual violence in the Central African Republic and around the world,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
“Not only is it the first time that the ICC has convicted someone for rape as a war crime but it is also the first ICC conviction based on command responsibility.”
“The judgment sends a clear message that impunity for sexual violence as a tool of war will not be tolerated. It also makes clear that military commanders and political superiors must take all necessary steps to prevent their subordinates from committing such heinous acts and will be held accountable if they fail to do so.”
Welcoming the verdict, ICC chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda told the BBC that: “While the reality of the crimes is appalling, the significance of this decision is to be celebrated.
“What this decision affirms is that commanders are responsible for the acts of the forces under their control.”