June 21, 2018

Congo warlord, Jean-Pierre Bemba's conviction overturned

10 June 2018, 11:16 | Taylor George

File The ICC overturned the war crimes conviction of Congolese politician Jean Pierre Bemba on Friday

File The ICC overturned the war crimes conviction of Congolese politician Jean Pierre Bemba on Friday

Today, 8 June 2018, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court ("ICC" or "Court") decided, by majority, to acquit Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo from the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Bemba was sentenced in 2016 to 18 years in prison.

Bemba was transferred to the ICC in July 2008 and charged with three counts of war crimes - murder, rape, and pillaging - and two counts of crimes against humanity - murder and rape.

Bemba had sent his militia, the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC), into the vehicle in October 2002 to quash a coup against the then president, Ange-Felix Patasse.

In a 3-2 ruling the divided court overturned Bemba's five-count conviction, which was unanimously handed down in 2016.

Amnesty International said the victims who took part in Bemba's trial will continue to seek justice.

"Mr Bemba can not be held criminally liable for the crimes committed by his troops in the Central African Republic", presiding judge Christine Van den Wyngaert told the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Judge Monageng and Judge Hofmański found that all criminal acts for which Mr Bemba was convicted fell within the scope of the case that the Prosecutor had brought against him.

"The decision to acquit Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is an important reminder that worldwide justice is only possible if all suspects receive stringently fair trials before an independent and impartial judiciary", the human rights agency said.

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The judges ruled that he should not have been held liable as a remote commander for crimes committed by his troops in a foreign country.

Bemba has been in custody at the ICC for almost a decade after authorities in Belgium arrested him there in 2008 and sent him to The Hague.

Karine Bonneau of the International Federation for Human Rights was among those who slammed the court's decision.

The message "to warlords seems to be: when you're not at the scene, let your troops commit the worst crimes and worst abominations, then say you had nothing to do with it, and we won't condemn you".

The trial was the first before the ICC to focus on sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Mr. Bemba, once the leader of Congo's opposition, is expected to return to politics once released.

The court in The Hague also declared that it will now "urgently" supervise another case against Bemba for offenses to the administration of justice in which he was convicted, for which he is still in jail.

Kabila was supposed to give up the presidency at the end of 2016 but he has clung to power, repeatedly putting off elections.

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