DRC warlord Bemba 18-year jail sentence overturned

09 Juin, 2018, 11:09 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • Jean-Pierre Bemba in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague

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!"

International Criminal Court appeals judges overturned Friday, June 8, 2018 the convictions of former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba for atrocities committed by his forces in Central African Republic.

Dismissing his 18-year-sentence, she said trial judges had failed to consider his efforts to stop crimes committed by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) once he became aware of them, and how hard it would have been for him to control the troops' actions from a distance.

Bemba was one of only four people convicted by the permanent war crimes court in its 16 years of operation, and the highest ranking among them. Frustration is rising in Congo against Kabila as presidential elections have been delayed since late 2016.

"The carnage and suffering caused by those crimes are very real and they are recognized", she told journalists.

The reversal delivered a serious setback to ICC prosecutors by scrapping all the convictions in the court's first trial to focus largely on sexual violence and on command responsibility - the legal principle that a commanding officer can be held responsible for crimes committed by his or her troops or for failing to prevent or punish the crimes.

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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.

Fiona McKay of the Open Society Justice Initiative said the decision was a "major blow" to Bensouda's office "given the vast resources that have been devoted to this case, which has lasted for more than 10 years".

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

But what is clear is that this release will not be immediate: He was also convicted of a separate charge, witness tampering, and his appeal of that verdict remains in process. He was sentenced in 2016 to 18 years in prison. He entered government with Kabila in 2003 as part of a power-sharing deal that ended years of civil war.

However, the Appeals Chamber of the ICC ruled that he could not be held responsible for crimes committed by his troops.

Solomon Sacco, head of the worldwide justice team at Amnesty global, said the acquittals "will be felt as a huge blow for the many victims of the "war against women" waged in the Central African Republic through a horrifying campaign of rape and sexual violence".

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