Thursday, 20 September, 2018

International Court Throws Out War Crimes Conviction of Congolese Politician

Jean-Pierre Bemba in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague Jean-Pierre Bemba in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague
Patty Aguilar | 10 June, 2018, 20:19

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has overturned the conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity of former Democratic Republic of Congo Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba.

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 auto in 2002-2003.

In 2016, Mr. Bemba was originally sentenced to 18 years in prison, after the Chamber found him "guilty beyond reasonable doubt" as a military commander responsible for two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging) committed in the Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003.

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.

According to the ICC appeals chamber, the judges who ruled in the 2016 case failed to take into account his attempts to stop the crimes once he was made aware they were taking place.

It is obviously hard to judge crimes that were committed at a different time and on a different continent, and of course Bemba was not on-site when the crimes were being committed.

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ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda described the ruling as "regrettable and troubling".

Van den Wyngaert said it was up to the trial chamber to decide whether to release Bemba from his 18-year sentence.

Bemba was not released immediately on Friday despite his acquittal because he has also been convicted of witness tampering, and an appeals judgment in that case is still pending.

Bemba, the son of a businessman, became rich during years of close association with former Congolese leader Mobutu Sese Seko.

Responding to the acquittal, Solomon Sacco, Head of the International Justice team at Amnesty International, said: "This decision will be felt as a huge blow for the many victims of the "war against women" waged in vehicle".

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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