Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo (born 4 November 1962) is a politician in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was one of four vice-presidents in the transitional government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 17 July 2003 to December 2006. Bemba also leads the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), a rebel group turned political party. He received the second highest number of votes in the 2006 presidential election. In January 2007 he was elected to the Senate.
He was arrested near Brussels on 24 May 2008 on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court. He is charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and five counts of war crimes.
In 2002, President Ange-Félix Patassé of the Central African Republic invited the MLC to come to his country and put down a coup attempt. Human rights activists accused MLC fighters of committing atrocities against civilians in the course of this conflict.
Bemba was one of 33 candidates who ran in the Congolese presidential election on 30 July, 2006. His main campaign slogan — "One Hundred Percent Congolese" — was widely perceived as an attack on frontrunner President Joseph Kabila.
During the campaign, he denied allegations of cannibalism, after opponents claimed that he had eaten pygmies during fighting in 2002. "These are lies which have come from the highest levels of government...The pygmies are alive and well" he responded.
Bemba received substantial support in the western, Lingala-speaking portion of the country, including the capital, Kinshasa. Following the vote there was significant tension as to whether the results would give Kabila a majority of the vote, in which case there would not be a second round against Bemba, who was perceived as Kabila's main opponent. However, according to results announced on 20 August, Kabila won 44% of the vote and Bemba won 20%, and therefore the two faced each other in a second round, held on October 29. The electoral commission announced the official results on November 15, naming Kabila the winner with 58.05% of the vote; Bemba's supporters have alleged fraud.
On November 27 2006, the Supreme Court of the DRC rejected the fraud charges brought by Bemba, and confirmed Kabila as the new elected Congolese President. A day later, Bemba said that he disagreed with the court's decision, but that "in the greater national interest and to preserve peace and to save the country from chaos and violence", he would participate in the system by leading the political opposition. He did not attend Kabila's swearing-in ceremony on December 6. On December 8, the MLC announced that Bemba would run for a Senate seat from Kinshasa in the January 2007 senatorial election, and he succeeded in winning a seat.
A dispute over Bemba's personal guard led to an outbreak of fighting near Bemba's residence in Kinshasa on March 22, 2007. Bemba's guard did not obey a March 15 deadline to register at a military base in order to be incorporated into the military, with a spokesperson for Bemba citing concerns about his security. In the fighting, a number of people, including both soldiers and civilians, were reported killed. Bemba called for a ceasefire and negotiations and took refuge in the South African embassy. As fighting continued on March 23, it was announced that a warrant for Bemba's arrest had been issued, accusing him of high treason. Although Bemba enjoys immunity as a senator, the country's chief prosecutor said that he would ask parliament to remove it. Bemba blamed the government for the fighting, said that it sought to kill him, and said that he would not surrender. Later on the same day, government forces were reported to have regained control of most of the city. According to one estimate, up to 600 people were killed in the fighting.
On March 26, Kabila said that security could not be guaranteed through negotiation and referred to the importance of restoring order. He characterized the dispute as a military one and said that Bemba could not be above the law; he also claimed that Bemba's guards had tried to take over Kinshasa. Bemba warned of the potential for dictatorship and said that he might go into exile due to his security concerns. According to Bemba, the fighting had started as a result of an assassination attempt against him by soldiers who had surrounded his house. Hundreds of fighters loyal to Bemba, both in Kinshasa and the north of the country, reportedly surrendered following the fighting to be integrated into the army.
Late in the month it was reported that Bemba planned to travel to Portugal for treatment of a broken leg; he had already received treatment for his leg there in previous months. The Portuguese ambassador subsequently said on March 30 that Bemba was expected to go to Portugal for treatment, but was not going into exile there. The Senate approved the trip, for a period of 60 days, on April 9; Bemba promised to avoid politics while in Portugal. On April 11, Bemba left the South African embassy and was taken to the airport by U.N. MONUC forces, then flown out of the country to Portugal, along with his wife and children. On April 12, the attorney general, Tshimanga Mukeba, said that he had requested that the Senate remove Bemba's immunity.
Following the outbreak of violence in March, Bemba's party, the MLC, said that it was being targeted by the government through arrests and intimidation, and that its headquarters was occupied by government forces. On April 13, the party suspended its participation in the National Assembly due to what it described as insecurity. The MLC ended its boycott on April 25.
In the first half of June, it was reported that, despite the expiration of the 60 days he had been allowed by the Senate, Bemba would not return to DR Congo at that time due to concerns about his safety. According to MLC executive secretary Thomas Luhaka, Bemba was medically in a condition to return and take part in politics again, and Luhaka called for a political solution that would facilitate his return. Without the Senate's permission to be absent, he would be subject to the automatic loss of his seat if absent from over a quarter of Senate sessions, unless the absences were justified. On June 15, the Senate extended the period of Bemba's permitted absence until July 31, fulfilling a request from Bemba in a June 12 letter in which he asked for more time. In this letter he expressed a readiness to return and take part in politics, but also expressed concerns about his safety.
Bemba met with Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development & Humanitarian Aid, on July 13. According to Michel, Bemba "intends to give the presidential majority the benefit of the doubt" and would not do or say anything "that could be taken as an attempt at destabilisation". He did not return by the deadline on July 31, with a spokesman citing continued security concerns; the Senate was then in recess until September 15, and Senate President Kengo wa Dondo said that Bemba would not be penalized for being away during this period because the Senate was not in session. In a statement published on August 1, Bemba said that he wanted to return before September 15.
It was announced on September 7 that Bemba had met with National Assembly President Vital Kamerhe in Portugal to discuss his potential return. In November 2007, he visited Belgium and met with Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht on November 5.
In a March 2008 interview, one year after the Kinshasa clashes, Bemba said that he was in "forced exile" and that it seemed the government was moving towards dictatorship.
On 23 May 2008, a Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Bemba bore individual criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic between 25 October 2002 and 15 March 2003, and issued a sealed warrant for his arrest. He was charged with five counts of war crimes (murder, rape, torture, pillaging, and outrages upon personal dignity) and two counts of crimes against humanity (murder, rape and torture).
On May 24 2008, Bemba was arrested near Brussels. He was surrendered to the ICC on 3 July 2008 and transferred to its detention centre in the Hague. He was the first person arrested in connection with the ICC's investigation in the Central African Republic. The Supreme Court of the Central African Republic had been unable to prosecute cases against Bemba and former CAR President Ange-Felix Patasse.
The MLC denounced the arrest and requested that Parliament do likewise; it also asked that Parliament call on the Belgian government to respect Bemba's immunity as a Senator under Congolese law. MLC official Delly Sesanga accused ICC prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo of trying "to interfere with the internal businesses of Congo", describing such interference as "unacceptable"; Sesanga also said that, although the prosecution claimed Bemba was a flight risk, there had been no indication of that. More than 2,000 supporters of Bemba protested in Kinshasa on May 27, demanding that he be freed.
Bemba's defense argued that the legal procedures applied to Bemba's case were irregular, but on July 1 a Belgian court rejected this argument, making it possible to transfer Bemba to the ICC. Bemba's lawyer Aime Kilolo Musamba said that Bemba had "no fear of the ICC" and was "totally sure of his innocence", but he also said that Bemba would seek the intervention of the United Nations Security Council in hopes that it would demand the suspension of his case because he had "done a lot of work for peace". Meanwhile, MLC official Fyfy Osambia argued that "the matter has been politicised" and that people "close to President Kabila" were responsible for the complaint against Bemba. He said that Bemba should be allowed to go before the ICC without being a prisoner.
Following the Belgian court's ruling, Bemba was transferred to the ICC in The Hague on July 3. Musamba stressed that this was an opportunity to prove that Bemba was innocent. In a hearing on July 4, Bemba made his first appearance at the ICC, and the beginning of a hearing dealing with confirmation of the charges against him was set for November 4. Geraldine Mattioli of Human Rights Watch said on this occasion that she hoped Bemba would additionally be tried for crimes committed in his own country.
OPENING OF THE TRIAL OF JEAN-PIERRE BEMBA: THE SELF-SACRIFICE AND COURAGE OF CENTRAL AFRICAN VICTIMS FINALLY REWARDED.
Nov 18, 2010; The following information was released by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH): The International Federation for...