Saturday, 23 June, 2018

Congo warlord, Jean-Pierre Bemba's conviction overturned

Congo’s Bemba jail term extended by an extra year Jean-Pierre Bemba REUTERS Michael Kooren
Patty Aguilar | 12 June, 2018, 14:42

What Happened: The International Criminal Court overturned former Congolese Vice President and rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba's conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity, BBC reported June 8.

Presiding judge Christine Van den Wijngaert said that Bemba could not be held responsible for atrocities carried out by troops under his control in neighbouring Central African Republic, and that trial judges had failed to consider the efforts he made to stop crimes once he became aware of them.

On 21 March 2016, the judges of Trial Chamber III unanimously convicted Bemba of all charges.

The trial two years ago of the court in The Hague considered the guerrilla leader guilty of the aforementioned crimes during actions of his militia, the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), between October 2002 and March 2003.

It was also the first to determine whether a military commander bore responsibility for the conduct of troops under his control. He was sentenced in 2016 to 18 years in prison.

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.

Friday's decision was greeted by cheers from his supporters in the gallery.

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The ICC, headquartered in the Netherlands, in 2016 convicted Bemba for the war crimes after a six-year trial, saying he knew about the war crimes. Lawyers also told witnesses to lie about payments they had received, the summary said.

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

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

It remains to be seen what Bemba will do once he is released.

Bemba's release may pave the way for him to retake the reins of his political party.

More than 5,000 survivors took part in the proceedings against Bemba, said Amnesty's head of global justice, Solomon Sacco.

The message "to warlords seems to be: when you're not at the scene, let your troops commit the worst crimes and worst abominations, then say you had nothing to do with it, and we won't condemn you".

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