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Mouvement de liberation congolais (MLC)

The Mouvement de liberation congolais (MLC), led by businessman Jean-Pierre Bemba, aimed to overthrow the Kabila government of Congo [Zaire]. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was the commander-in-chief of the former Congolese rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, as well as a vice-president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the 2003-2006 transition.

Supported by Uganda, the MLC was at odds with Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD)-Goma. The group was particularly active in the Equateur region, where Bemba was based at Lisala. The MLC contained the most militarily organized force of the Congolese forces fighting in the War. Jean Pierre Bemba had access to gold, diamonds, timber and precious stones.

In 2002, Bemba's Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC--Mouvement de liberation du Congo) was asked by then President Ange-Felix Patasse of the Central African Republic to help put down a coup attempt. But once that was achieved, the one thousand strong MLC force was accused of installing a reign of terror.

The forces loyal to General François Bozizé, the former Chief of Staff of the Forces armées centrafricaines (“FACA”), were composed of various former FACA soldiers and some Chadian nationals. General Bozizé’s rebels advanced from Chad through the Central African Republic in October 2002. They engaged FACA troops and captured various towns before entering Bangui on 25 October 2002. The FACA soldiers and other forces supporting President Patassé – including the Unité de sécurité présidentielle (“USP”), some Libyan troops, and other militias – responded with armed force.

In order to defend his government, President Patassé requested the assistance of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo (“MLC”) and its military branch, the Armée de Libération du Congo (“ALC”), from Mr Bemba. The MLC was a movement based in Gbadolite, the capital of the Équateur Province, in the northwest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the “DRC”). It was established by Mr Bemba in 1998 with the goal of overthrowing the government in Kinshasa. Mr Bemba was the MLC President, Commander-in-Chief of the ALC, the MLC’s figurehead, and the source of its main funding, goals, and aims.

In response to President Patassé’s request, Mr Bemba deployed ALC troops from the DRC to the Central African Republic to intervene in support of President Patassé. The MLC contingent Mr Bemba deployed to the Central African Republic was comprised of three battalions totalling around 1,500 men. Initially two battalions crossed to the Central African Republic at the start of the conflict, while the third was deployed around the end of January 2003.

Over the course of approximately five months, beginning on 26 October 2002, the MLC troops, with a limited number of FACA forces frequently accompanying them, advanced through various localities in the Central African Republic, namely through Bangui, to PK12 and PK22, and along the Damara-Sibut and Bossembélé-Bossangoa axes. They attacked Mongoumba, and, on or about 15 March 2003, they withdrew back to the DRC through Bangui and other crossing points along the Oubangui River.

After the MLC’s arrival on 26 October 2002, hostilities and regular use of armed force continued between the forces supporting President Patassé and General Bozizé’s rebels: in Bangui at the end of October 2002, along the road to PK22 in the first half of November 2002, around Damara in early December 2002, along the Bossembélé-Bozoum axis between mid-December and February 2003, on the road to and around Sibut in late February 2003, and along the Bossembélé-Bossangoa axis in late February or early March 2003. On or about 6 March 2003, the MLC troops began to retreat towards Bangui, engaging General Bozizé’s rebels along the way until the MLC’s complete withdrawal from the Central African Republic on 15 March 2003.

Although, there were breaks in hostilities, these were not the result of “a peaceful settlement” and were merely temporary lulls in active engagements between the parties to the conflict. At all times relevant to the charges, there was a resort to armed force and protracted violence between the forces supporting President Patassé and General Bozizé’s rebels. The conflict was confined to the territory of the Central African Republic, the foreign participants were not acting under the overall control of any foreign government, and the evidence demonstrated that it could not be viewed as one in which two or more states opposed each other.

In the course of the 2002-2003 Operation MLC troops committed many acts of pillaging, rape, and murder against civilians, over a large geographical area, including in and around Bangui, PK12, PK22, Bozoum, Damara, Sibut, Bossangoa, Bossembélé, Dékoa, Kaga Bandoro, Bossemptele, Boali, Yaloke, and Mongoumba. The multiple acts of rape and murder committed by the MLC soldiers constituted a course of conduct, and were not merely isolated or random acts.

After Congo's civil war, Bemba's MLC group became a political party. Jean-Pierre Bemba, the millionaire businessman, and rebel leader of the Ugandan-backed Movement for the Liberation of Congo (or MLC) came to the capital from his stronghold in the northwest of the country. The leader of the second biggest rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo arrived in Kinshasa in July 2003 to be sworn in as part of a new transitional government that was meant to end over four years of war. Two of the vice presidents will be the leaders of the two largest rebel groups - the Movement for the Liberation of Congo and the Rally for Congolese Democracy - and the other two, who have already been chosen, are from the government and the civilian opposition.

In 2006 President Kabila defeated Jean-Pierre Bemba, head of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo in the second round of voting for President. After his 2006 election victory, Mr. Kabila's security forces fought gunbattles in Kinshasa with forces of the president's election rival, Jean-Pierre Bemba, and hundreds of people died.

Kengo wa Dondo's election as Senate president offered a threat to Bemba's claim as most prominent opposition politician, and perhaps Bemba is aware that even some of his supposed most prominent party allies privately indicate that they would not be unhappy if Bemba did not return to Kinshasa soon. Bluster and threats are characteristic of Bemba's style. Senator and former DRC Transitional Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba would not be returning to Kinshasa in the near future. Bemba intended to remain in Portugal until his "security arrangements" are guaranteed by the GDRC. Bemba left the temporary sanctuary of the South African Embassy compound in Kinshasa 11 April 2007 after his militia forces were effectively routed by government troops during fighting 22-23 March 2007. He went to Portugal for follow-up medical treatment for a leg injury suffered in December 2006. There was little interest among Kabila supporters to facilitate Bemba's return to the DRC.

Bemba had always been obsessed with his personal security, which he often cited to justify his past 500 ) 600 man personal security force in Kinshasa. MONUC was committed during the Transition to providing protective services for the DRC's Transition Vice Presidents as a result of the agreements reached to produce the 2003 Sun City Accord. These duties, however, consumed substantial MONUC resources, and MONUC felt that such protective duties properly belong to DRC police or other services in the post-election period.

On 24 May 2008, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo (“Mr Bemba’’) was arrested by the Belgian authorities, pursuant to a warrant of arrest issued by the International Criminal Court , and was surrendered to the Court on 3 June 2008. Bemba was arrested in Belgium in May 2008 for war crimes he allegedly committed in the Central African Republic. The International Criminal Court said his forces carried out a series of rapes and murders in the CAR between October 2002 and March 2003. Bemba faced four counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity. His arrest is the first stemming from an investigation opened by ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo a year earler.

The International Criminal Court agreed in October 2010 to pursue the war crimes trial of Congo's former Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba. Fadi El Abdallah is an officer at the International Criminal Court. "The outcome of today's judgment is that the case against Mr. Bemba is admissible indeed, and the trial can continue," he said.

Equateur is indeed a very different province. It epitomizes the widespread discontent in western provinces that the East receives disproportionate international and national attention because of armed conflict in the Kivus. The province was a "victim" because it was viewed as the epicenter of national opposition to the Kabila regime. Equateur, a marginalized province even within the DRC context, faces underdevelopment and lack of capacity in all sectors. Poverty, lack of infrastructure and adequate health care, insecurity, and sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) are all tremendous problems in the province. MONUC claimed in 2009 that there were only two employees in the provincial administration who knew how to use a computer. Because international environmental organizations had managed to designate several large areas in Equateur as protected parks, many local residents could not continue their subsistence lifestyle of hunting and fishing.

A local fishing dispute in the western province of Equateur in late 2009 spiraled into an armed conflict, provoking refugee and IDP flows. Although the situation is now stabilized, it is a reminder of how weak, or even non-existent, state authority is throughout the DRC. The various conflicts have exacerbated an already bad human rights situation, including rampant sexual- and gender-based violence.

In July 2011 the Democratic Republic of Congo's main opposition party named Jean Pierre-Bemba, who is on trial for war crimes at The Hague, as it presidential candidate. The Movement for the Liberation of Congo announced its decision after a party meeting. It was not immediately clear how Bemba could campaign or serve from his ICC jail cell. The Movement for the Liberation of Congo, in contrast to the radical approach of the UDPS, represented a responsible form of opposition. From another perspective, the MLC was undemocratic for dismissing other opposition points of view. The MLC is inhibited by ties to Bemba, thus preventing the MLC from uniting with other opposition parties to challenge the AMP.

On 21 June 2016 the ICC today sentenced the former Congolese vice-president, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, to 18 years of imprisonment for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003. In a ruling issued in March 2016, the ICC found Bemba guilty beyond reasonable doubt as a military commander responsible for two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape and pillaging) committed in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003. The civilian population was the primary, as opposed to incidental, target of the attack, and in turn, that the attack was directed against the civilian population in the Central African Republic.

In light of his conviction, Bemba was sentenced to the following terms of imprisonment: 16 years of imprisonment for murder as a war crime; 16 years of imprisonment for murder as a crime against humanity; 18 years of imprisonment for rape as a war crime; 18 years of imprisonment for rape as a crime against humanity; and 16 years of imprisonment for pillaging as a war crime. The Chamber considered that the highest sentence imposed, namely, 18 years for rape, reflected the totality of Bemba's culpability, and decided that the sentences imposed shall run concurrently. The entire time Bemba had spent in detention in accordance with an order of the ICC, since 24 May 2008, will be deducted from his sentence.

He is not only the first person convicted by a global war crimes court for crimes of sexual violence, but also the first to be held directly responsible for crimes committed by his soldiers.

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Page last modified: 03-07-2016 20:05:45 ZULU