Monday, 18 February, 2019

Hague court judges overturn ex-Congo VP Bemba's war crime convictions

ICC acquits DR Congo's Bemba on appeal ICC acquits DR Congo's Bemba on appeal
Melinda Barton | 12 June, 2018, 14:42

Global war crimes judges Friday acquitted former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba on appeal, overturning an 18-year sentence for war crimes committed in the Central African Republic (CAR).

After a six-year trial, judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2016 unanimously found Bemba guilty on five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"Mr Bemba can not be held criminally liable. for the crimes committed by MLC troops during the vehicle operation", reads the judgment's summary.

"Mr Bemba can not be held criminally responsible for the crimes committed by MLC troops during the Central African Republic operation", she said, reading the ruling of a 5-judge appeal panel.

Bemba was the highest ranking politician convicted by the permanent war crimes court, and his case had been seen as establishing a precedent that political and military officials may be held liable for the actions of troops under their command.

Bemba was sentenced in 2016 to 18 years in prison.

Congolese rebel warlord and Democratic Republic of Congo Vice President Jean -Pierre Bemba attends a court session. Bemba's supporters in the packed public gallery were not so reserved; they cheered, whistled and hugged one another for so long that Van den Wyngaert threatened to halt proceedings if order was not restored.

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

The appeals chamber also said Bemba was wrongly convicted for crimes that were not even included in the charges against him.

The case ending Friday afternoon is significant as it was the first ICC prosecution to focus heavily on sexual crimes in an armed conflict. Bemba's efforts to stop the crimes "extinguished his responsibility in full".

In its assessment of whether Mr Bemba took all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent, repress or punish the commission by his subordinates of the other crimes within the scope of the case, the Trial Chamber made serious errors.

Judges are to decide "shortly whether Mr Bemba's continued detention is warranted", Van den Wyngaert said.

He said Bemba would probably go to Belgium to meet with his family there before returning to Congo after he is released.

A wealthy businessman, Bemba was once a towering figure in business and politics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).