Rape as a Weapon of War Takes Center Stage at the International Criminal Court
The trial of former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, which resumes this week at the Hague, is a first—the first before the International Criminal Court (ICC) to center on sex crimes. The ICC designated rape as a crime against humanity in 2008, but this is the first prosecution under the statute. Often criticized for insensitivity and a lax stance on sex crimes, the ICC now has an opportunity to show it takes them seriously. Bemba—perhaps the highest profile figure to be prosecuted at the ICC—faces two counts of crimes against humanity and three of war crimes. Militiamen in his command raped hundreds of civilians in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. At the outset of the trial, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Bemba is “even more responsible than his subordinates” for the rapes, which he called “crimes of domination and humiliation.” Not only is this the first sex crimes trial at the ICC, this is also the first time an all-female panel of judges will take the bench—Sylvia Steiner of Brazil, Kuniko Ozaki of Japan and Joyce Aluoch of Kenya. Steiner, the presiding judge, has expertise and training in women’s rights that make her an ideal candidate to lead this trial. But the trial has encountered delays and other setbacks since opening in 2010. If it can right itself, the trial could send set an important standard of accountability for perpetrators of rape and other sex crimes.