Published: Tue, June 12, 2018
People | By Neil Grant

Former Congolese Vice President Cleared Of War Crimes Conviction On Appeal

Former Congolese Vice President Cleared Of War Crimes Conviction On Appeal

Democratic Republic of Congo warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba has successfully overturned his landmark conviction.

They also asked the judges to lower his sentence, given that he has already spent close to a decade behind bars at the ICC's detention centre in The Hague.

He was accused of failing to prevent his rebels from raping and killing.

Furthermore, in the view of the Appeals Chamber majority, there was an apparent discrepancy between the limited number of crimes within the case's scope for which Mr. Bemba was held responsible and the Trial Chamber's assessment of which measures he should have taken.

"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.

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 neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

Friday's decision was greeted by cheers from his supporters in the gallery. If Bemba, who has been behind bars for 10 years, actually takes on Kabila in an (electoral) fight, it's likely this battle will claim further victims.

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.

Bemba was the most senior suspect convicted by the global court and his 18-year sentence was the highest handed down in the court's history. Bemba's efforts to stop the crimes "extinguished his responsibility in full".

Bemba lost an appeal against that sentence, but the ICC still has to decide whether a new jail term will be imposed.

At the time of his original conviction, judges said that women, girls and men were targeted by Bemba's forces, often with multiple soldiers raping women and girls in front of family members.

'The judges erroneously condemned Bemba for specific criminal acts, ' Van den Wyngaert stressed.

Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende said that Bemba had the right to return home if released, Reuters reported.

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