/ 3 September 2009

Bemba release on hold pending ICC appeal

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday put on hold the conditional release of Congolese rebel warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is facing trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Bemba will not be released until a decision is made on an appeal by prosecutors to keep him in custody until trial, the ICC said in a statement. The court had ordered Bemba’s conditional release on August 14, pending a decision on which country he would stay in until the start of his trial.

Bemba is accused of leading rebels from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in a campaign of torture, rape and murder in the neighbouring Central African Republic. Bemba, who was arrested in Belgium in May 2008, denies all the charges.

”Implementation of the decision on interim release is suspended pending the final decision on the merits of the Prosecution’s Appeal,” the court said in its statement.

Bemba, the highest-profile suspect so far brought before the court, is facing trial on two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes at the Hague-based ICC, the world’s first permanent court established to try war crimes.

Bemba’s three previous requests for release pending trial were all denied. But the ICC said last month it was no longer necessary to detain Bemba to ensure he appears at trial, in order to keep him from obstructing the hearings or to keep him from committing new war crimes.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo argued that Bemba should stay in prison to ensure that victims and witnesses could be sure a trial would take place, and their safety be guaranteed. — Reuters