Jean Pierre-Bemba Gombo

The Prosecutor v Jean-Pierre Bemba

News: On 8 June 2018 Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was acquitted by the ICC Appeals Chamber.

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was the President and Commander-in-chief of the Mouvement de libération du Congo (Movement for the Liberation of Congo) (MLC). He was found guilty, on 21 March 2016, of two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape and pillaging) committed in Central African Republican (CAR) between 2002 and 2003 by a contingent of MLC troops. Bemba was a person effectively acting as a military commander with effective authority and control over the forces that committed the crimes.


Bemba went to CAR in 2002, after its then-president, Ange-Félix Patassé, invited him and his MLC forces to help put down a coup attempt led by his former army chief of staff, François Bozizé. Bemba’s forces are alleged to have carried out widespread crimes against the civilian population in the CAR, including mass rapes, killings, and looting. The coup was successful, and Bozizé became president.


In December 2004, the government of CAR asked the ICC to investigate crimes committed during the 2002-2003 rebellion. In May 2007 the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC announced the opening of an investigation in the CAR.

A warrant for the arrest of Bemba was issued on 28 May, and amended on 10 June 2008, containing charges for rape as a crime against humanity and as a war crime; torture as a crime against humanity and as a war crime; committing outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, as a war crime; and pillaging a town or place as a war crime.

Bemba was arrested by Belgium on 24 May 2008 and was transferred to The Hague on 3 July 2008.

Rape as torture 

On 15 June 2009, Pre Trial Chamber II confirmed the charges against Bemba but declined to confirm the charges of torture and outrages upon personal dignity.  On the 21 June 2009, the Prosecutor asked for leave to appeal the decision.

On 28 August 2009, a group of experts, women’s human rights advocates and human rights organisations including REDRESS, filed an application for leave to submit an amicus in the Bemba case on the issue of cumulative charging for rape, torture and outrages upon personal dignity. The submission asserted that cumulative charging is a widely accepted and established practice in national and international courts and does not contravene the right of the accused to a fair trial. It was emphasised that the offences of rape and torture require clearly distinct elements, justifying a cumulative charging approach.

In addition, the amicus argued that the negotiating history of the Rome Statute and Elements of Crimes promotes cumulative charging for crimes of sexual violence. Furthermore, the amicus stressed that rape has long been considered under the concept of torture in international criminal, human rights, humanitarian, and customary international law. Given that sexual and gender-based violence disproportionately affects women, disallowing cumulative charging also constitutes discrimination on the basis of gender. Finally, the amicus warned that disallowing cumulative charging risked the trivialising rape and other crimes of sexual violence.

Single Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova rejected the application on 4 September 2009 on the basis of ensuring the expeditiousness of the proceedings. The Chamber later rejected the Prosecutor’s request for leave to appeal the charging Decision.


Bemba’s trial opened on 22 November 2010 and concluded in November 2014. 5,229 victims participated in the proceedings.

On 21 March 2016, Bemba was convicted of committing, as military commander, two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging).

On 21 June 2016 he was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Both the judgement and the sentence are currently subject to appeals.

On 22 July 2016, the Chamber issued an order requesting submissions on a number of areas to assist its determination of the principles to be applied to the reparation phase in the case.

On 10 August 2016, REDRESS sought leave to provide observations relevant to reparations.

REDRESS filed its submission on 17 October 2016.

On 8 June 2018 REDRESS was acquitted by the ICC Appeals Chamber.


  • Case Name: The Prosecutor v Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo
  • Court/Body: International Criminal Court (ICC)
  • Date Filed: 28 August 2009 (REDRESS’s application for leave to intervene)
  • Current Status: Verdict delivered (21 March 2016) and sentence announced (21 June 2016).
  • Legal representation: REDRESS, International Women’s Human Rights Clinic (on behalf of proposed amici consisting of UN Toture and Women’s human rights experts and human rights advocates).

Photo by ICC-CPI.