Human Rights watch has posted a Q & A section on the opening of the Bemba trial, the page is available here. Among the facts noted, more than 1200 victims have submitted applications to participate. Of those the court has approved at least 135. Curiously, the court has limited the legal representatives of the victims to two lawyers and two assistants, at least at the trial phase. Whether this will provide effective representation remains to be seen.
Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was arrested in 2008, the trial began today at the International Criminal Court (ICC). He is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity including rape, murder and pillaging. A representative of the Office of the Prosecutor has blogged about the trial here. The main allegation against Bemba is the failure as Commander of Chief of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) to prevent his troops from engaging in a massive campaign of sex crimes. MLC was based in the Central African Republic, though Bemba is a citizen of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Victims in cases before the ICC have a unique opportunity to participate in cases as they go on. They can examine witnesses, offer evidence and upon conviction seek an order for reparations. The reparations process is unprecedented in international criminal justice. How it will be enacted and what the victims may receive is yet to be determined. The first case, against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, of the DRC has not finished testimony. If there is a conviction, it would then move to the reparations stage. Though appeals may have to be resolved first.