Bemba Denied Interim Release By ICC: Justice for Victims?
February 5, 2015
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Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, has recently made an appeal to the ICC appeals chamber, after being denied interim release late last year. Bemba has been in the Hague since 2008 on charges that his failure as the MLC commander-in-chief to stop or punish his soldiers responsible for committing atrocities against Central African Citizens resulted in murder, rape, and pillaging. He denies such charges. These crimes occurred between 2002 and 2003, and the last oral hearings occurred at the end of last November. However, Bemba faces a new trial on the charge of corrupting and influencing witnesses.
In light of these accusations, Bemba had not been granted interim release. A pre-trial judge in January of this year if judges in the main trial also allowed for his release, as Bemba has spent this entire time separated from his family, party, constituents, and country for six and a half years. This is unusual, according to Bemba’s defense attorney, arguing that other accused political leaders held at the ICC have been given interim release so that they could tend to their political duties. While the prosecution opposes Bemba’s release out of the fear that he will flee, harass witnesses, or obstruct proceedings of the court, the defense for Bemba argues that he no longer needs to appear in court, and that if released, he would not pose a danger to witnesses or victims of the crimes he is accused of. What is interesting is that the defense is proving that Bemba does not pose a danger through the fact that no victim or witness had made any claim that Bemba had interfered with or threatened them or their families in any way.
What does this denial of interim release by the ICC mean? As Bemba’s defense notes, the ICC has granted interim releases to other political indictees so that they could carry out their duties at home. Is there something special about Bemba that is preventing the ICC from granting him interim release while the proceedings carry on? Or is the ICC taking steps to prevent accused perpetrators from being able to return to their home countries after being charged with atrocities? Is this a step toward more justice for victims, by not letting the accused return home to carry out their duties as leader? Or is this injustice to Bemba, as the defense argues that he has posed no danger to the victims and witnesses?
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