More than 5,000 victims of atrocities committed by troops commanded by former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba are calling for individual reparations, rights activists said Monday.

International judges sentenced Bemba in June 2016 to 18 years in jail on five charges of war crimes committed when his troops went on a murderous and violent rampage in neighbouring Central African Republic between October 2002 to March 2003.

Most of the victims “have lost everything, and continue to live with the physical and psychological consequences of the crimes, horrors and traumas they have experienced,” said a rights NGO.

Although Bemba has appealed his sentence, the ICC is already preparing the ground for what reparations should be awarded to the 5,229 victims.

It would be the tribunal’s third such award since it opened in 2002 as the world’s only permanent war crimes court to prosecute the worst of crimes.

According to a survey by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in June, most victims want to see individual damages rather than a collective award for communities ravaged by Bemba’s private militia.

“They insist that their compensation be paid to them individually and be accompanied by awareness-raising sessions to make people more sensitive to the problem of stigmatisation,” FIDH added.

A commander’s responsibility 

Bemba, now 55, sent in 1,500 troops from his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) to quash a coup in CAR.

But they unleashed a five-month reign of terror, with the court handed down its toughest penalty for what it denounced as a wave of “sadistic, cruel” rapes and murders.

Bemba’s case was the first at the ICC to focus on rape as a weapon of war and the first to highlight a military commander’s responsibility for the conduct of the troops under his control.

Even if the reparations come late they “are still an exception in a country that is ravaged by impunity and that continues to be the target of violent conflicts and sexual crimes committed by militias and armed groups,” FIDH added.

The victims also want to see the formerly rich businessman forced to pay damages from his own pocket.

In its two previous reparations awards, war crimes judges said in August that a Malian jihadist was liable for 2.7 million euros for destroying Timbuktu’s fabled shrines in 2012.

But it recognised he was penniless.

And in March, the ICC awarded symbolic damages of $250 (212 euros) to each of the 297 victims of former Congolese warlord Germain Katanga, serving 12 years for a 2003 attack on a village.

Reparations are also still due to be finalised in the case of Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga, serving 14 years for conscripting child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


© Agence France-Presse