International court convicts Congo's ex-vice president of murder, rape and pillage

THE HAGUE, Netherlands –  The International Criminal Court convicted a former Congolese vice president Monday of murder, rape and pillage for commanding troops who committed widespread atrocities in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

The conviction of Jean-Pierre Bemba marked the first time the court has convicted a suspect based on his role as a military commander. It also was the court's first judgment focusing on a brutal campaign of rape by troops in an armed conflict.

Bemba, 53, is the highest-ranking person yet convicted by the court. He showed no emotion as Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner read out the long judgment highlighting horrific crimes by his militia.

He will be sentenced following a separate hearing. His defense lawyers can appeal.

Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner of Brazil outlined a litany of rapes by members of Bemba's militia, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, after it was deployed to Central African Republic to help forces loyal to then-President Ange-Feliz Patasse fight rebels led by Francois Bozize. Bozize's forces ultimately won and he replaced Patasse as president.

Steiner said women, girls and men were targeted by Bemba's forces, often with multiple soldiers raping women and girls in front of other family members.

In one incident, a man's wife was gang raped and when he protested he, too, was raped at gunpoint.

"Entire families were victimized," Steiner said. "Victims included the elderly men, women and children."

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