The United States welcomes yesterday’s verdict at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the case against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and previously a leader of a Congolese rebel group that committed widespread atrocities in the Central African Republic (CAR) from 2002 to 2003. His conviction for rape, murder, and pillaging as war crimes and crimes against humanity while a rebel leader brings an important measure of justice to the victims of these crimes and in particular advances the fight against impunity for sexual violence in conflict.
Those who are responsible for such heinous acts must be held accountable. Yesterday’s verdict, which recognizes Bemba’s command responsibility for atrocities committed by his forces, demonstrates that those responsible for such crimes—even those at the highest levels—cannot expect to escape justice. Secretary Kerry has reinforced this important principle, stating at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict that “responsibility goes straight to the top, even to the military commanders who knew or should have known about sexual violence and failed to act.”
The United States supports the ICC’s investigations in the Central African Republic, and we commend CAR’s commitment to ensuring accountability for serious crimes, including through its cooperation with the ICC in this matter as well as through domestic efforts to pursue justice. Yesterday’s decision follows other important recent efforts through both national and international judicial processes to begin to change the culture of impunity in the region. Recognizing the importance of this decision to many in Central Africa, we urge all stakeholders to respond in a measured and non-violent manner to this landmark judgment.