Published: Sun, June 10, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

ICC overturns conviction of Congo warlord Bemba

ICC overturns conviction of Congo warlord Bemba

On Friday, June 8, the appellate court of the worldwide criminal court in the Hague acquitted the former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Jean-Pierre Bemba, who two years ago was sentenced to 18 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity, reports DW.

"The trial chamber ignored significant testimonial evidence that Mr Bemba's ability to investigate and punish crimes in the vehicle was limited", Judge Van den Wyngaert said. 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 was arrested in 2008 by Belgian authorities and was charged with rape, killing, and looting against the civilian population in the vehicle.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda called the appeal decision "regrettable and troubling".

Bemba was found guilty in 2016 of crimes committed in the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) from 2002 to 2003.

But a judge has now said he can not be held responsible for their actions.

The conviction had marked several milestones.

In 2002, the then CAR President Ange-Félix Patassé, had invited Bemba, who was the Movement of Liberation of the Congo (MLC) President and Commander-in-Chief, to the country to prevent a coup.

He failed to stop a series of "sadistic and cruel" rapes and murders as well as pillaging by his soldiers, the judges said.

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

However, appeal Judge Van den Wyngaert said the judges in the original case had "ignored significant testimonial evidence that Bemba's ability to investigate and punish crimes in vehicle was limited".

Still, she sought to claim something of a pyrrhic victory by noting that the judges did not deny Bemba's troops had committed atrocities "which resulted in great suffering in the Central African Republic".

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is seen in a court room of the ICC to hear the delivery of the judgment on charges including corruptly influencing witnesses by giving them money and instructions to provide false testimony and false evidence, in the Hague, the Netherlands, March 21, 2016.

Some of the witnesses who had never been in the military were issued ranks and insignia, according to the summary, and some were promised a new life in Europe.

But the acquittal is a blow for prosecutors.

The appeals court ruled that the trial court "erred in its evaluation of Mr. Bemba's motivation and the measures that he could have taken in light of the limitations he faced in investigating and prosecuting crimes as a remote commander sending troops to a foreign country".

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