Jean Pierre Bemba’s October 25th deadline to complete the presentation of his defense is approaching. The former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and commander-in-chief of the Movement de Libération du Congo (MLC) is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) based on the legal theory of command responsibility. According to this theory, a civil or military leader can be held criminally liable for crimes committed by his subordinates if he does not take action to prevent the crimes.
Bemba is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by his MLC militia during the Central African Republic (CAR) conflict in 2002-2003. His trial started in November 2010, with the prosecution calling 40 witnesses of which 36 were heard. Some witnesses have testified that MLC troops were the ones committing crimes such as murder and gang-rape. The witnesses said they identified the MLC troops by the language they spoke and the way they were dressed.
The defense argues that Bemba did not have effective command or control over his forces during the CAR conflict, and that the MLC fighters fell under the command of the Central African military authority during their deployment on foreign territory.
Up till now, the defense has called more than 30 witnesses including experts, former members of the MLC, victims of abuses and a former soldier of the FACA (the Central African Armed Forces). All have testified that Bemba indeed did not have command or control over his troops in the CAR, nor were they aware of crimes committed by MLC fighters under Bemba’s command. One of the witnesses stated that there might be confusion regarding the identity of the perpetrators. The CAR soldiers spoke Lingala, which is a language native to the DRC. Furthermore, it was difficult to distinguish the MLC fighters from the CAR soldiers since both troops were wearing the same uniform.