Defense Lawyers Ask ICC Judges to Acquit Bemba
Defense lawyers have implored judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to acquit Jean-Pierre Bemba, stating that the prosecution failed to prove its allegations against the former Congolese opposition leader.
In closing oral remarks at the court in The Hague, lead defense lawyer Peter Haynes said the prosecution’s evidence was “selective, narrow,” and “unfair” and added that if Mr. Bemba is convicted, countries would find it difficult to offer military assistance to others however righteous the cause might be.
Prosecutors charge that Mr. Bemba as commander-in-chief of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) militia bears responsibility for the murder, rape, and pillaging his soldiers committed during a conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003. The soldiers were deployed in the neighboring country to help its then president Ange-Félix Patassé beat back a coup attempt.
Mr. Haynes said the MLC were not operational as a fighting force in the conflict until October 30, 2002. He said “a plethora” of defense and prosecution witnesses confirmed this, including Thierry Lengbe, who headed the Central African Center for Command Operations (CCOP) that spearheaded the fight against rebels.
Central African Republic Rebels Block Key Highways in Capital
Seleka rebels in Central African Republic blocked two highways through the capital Bangui on Thursday and exchanged gunfire with U.N. peacekeepers, witnesses said, in a further bout of the violent disorder plaguing the country.
The fighters, based at Camp Beal in Bangui since their leader ceded power to a transitional government in January, were protesting at a plan to relocate some of their ranks to a southern province to improve security in the capital.
Central African Republic sank into chaos when the mostly Muslim Seleka seized power in the majority Christian state in March 2013, ousting its president and unleashing communal strife that has killed thousands and displaced around one million.
EU Extends Military Operation in the Central African Republic
The Council today extended the European Union military operation in the Central African Republic (EUFOR RCA) until 15 March 2015. This follows a request by the authorities of the Central African Republic (CAR) and a renewed mandate from the UN Security Council. The prolongation is intended to ensure an effective transition to the UN-led peace operation MINUSCA.
EUFOR RCA is part of the EU’s comprehensive approach to the many challenges of the Central African Republic. As a bridging operation facilitating the smooth build-up of MINUSCA, it contributes to helping ensure a secure environment in the Central African Republic. The operation successfully assumed responsibility for the security of M’Poko airport and the 3rd and 5th districts of Bangui. The operation will continue most of these activities in 3rd and 5th districts during the extended mandate, whereas the responsibility for M’Poko airport will be handed over to MINUSCA at the end of this year.