January 22, 2019

Former Congolese Vice President Cleared Of War Crimes Conviction On Appeal

10 June 2018, 11:18 | Devin Moran

Congolese ex-Vice President Bemba acquitted of war crimes on appeal

ICC overturns war crimes conviction of DRC's Bemba

The International Criminal Court on Friday overturned the war crimes conviction of Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba on appeal.

Friday's decision was greeted by cheers from his supporters in the gallery. He was accused of failing to prevent his rebels from raping and killing.

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

Christine Van den Wijngaert said the judges in the 2016 case did not take into account Bemba's attempts to stop the crimes.

Bemba's case had been seen as cementing the precedent that officials may be held liable for the actions of troops under their command.

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

Bemba led the MLC party in the Democratic Republic of Congo and later became one of the country's four vice presidents in 2003 as part of a transitional government.

"5,229 survivors of Bemba's atrocities participated in the ICC proceedings - for these courageous individuals, as well as thousands of other victims in vehicle, the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations will continue", he said.

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

"This was the first ICC case with a major focus on the use of rape as a weapon of war", she said. However, Bemba will remain in prison pending a contempt case appeal, Reuters said.

Bemba has been in custody at the ICC for almost a decade after authorities in Belgium arrested him there in 2008 and sent him to The Hague.

CAR, meanwhile, has remained in an nearly constant state of turmoil.

A report by Human Rights Watch in October 2017 said fighters in its most recent conflict, which has been raging for more than five years, continued to use sexual violence to "terrorise women and children".

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.

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

But the acquittal is a blow for prosecutors.

More specifically, the Trial Chamber 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; in whether he made efforts to refer the allegations of crimes to the CAR's authorities; and in whether he intentionally limited the mandate of commissions and inquiries that he established.

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