Sunday, 17 February, 2019

Former Congolese Vice President Cleared Of War Crimes Conviction On Appeal

Jean-Pierre Bemba in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague Jean-Pierre Bemba in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague
Melinda Barton | 10 June, 2018, 20:17

Bemba was found guilty in 2016 as a military commander of two counts of crimes against humanity and three war crimes for a campaign of murder, rape and pillaging by his troops in 2002 and 2003.

A crowd of hundreds of supporters cheered outside Bemba's party headquarters in the Congo capital Kinshasa, shouting "Our president is free!" and "Jean Pierre Bemba is our candidate!"

Responding to the acquittal, Solomon Sacco, Head of the International Justice team at Amnesty International, said: "This decision will be felt as a huge blow for the many victims of the "war against women" waged in auto".

The judges said they had found an "apparent discrepancy between the limited number of crimes within the case's scope for which Mr Bemba was held responsible" compared to the assessment of his case.

Judge Christine Van den Wijngaert said Bemba, once the leader of Congo's main opposition party, could not be held responsible for crimes carried out by troops under his control in Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002-2003. He was sentenced in 2016 to 18 years in prison.

"We find it regrettable and troubling", Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said.

"For these courageous individuals, as well as thousands of other victims in auto, the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations will continue", he added.

"This was the first ICC case with a major focus on the use of rape as a weapon of war", she said. Bemba sent more than 1000 fighters to help stop the coup.

But his forces committed acts of extreme violence against civilians - crimes which the original judges said Bemba was made aware of but did nothing to stop.

The two judges who disagreed wrote a dissenting opinion in which they said the acquittals were based on "an incorrect standard of appellate review", the court said.

In a separate case, he was convicted of coaching and bribing witnesses to give false testimony during his trial and is waiting for a decision on that sentence. The judges in the minority would have confirmed Mr Bemba's conviction.

Jean-Pierre Bemba's legion of loyal friends and family dressed up for the occasion in vibrant shades of traditional attire.

Some will say the verdict proves this court, often derided as a neo-colonial tool, is driven purely by truth and facts.

Human rights groups are already saying the prosecution must learn from its failures and do more to ensure their evidence can stand up in court.