Former Congolese Vice President Cleared Of War Crimes Conviction On Appeal

Clay Curtis
June 10, 2018

More than two years after an global tribunal convicted Jean-Pierre Bemba of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the former vice president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has seen those convictions overturned on appeal.

Bemba, a former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, had been sentenced to 18 years in prison in June 2016 for alleged crimes including murder and rape.

On that basis, the Appeals Chamber concluded, by majority, that Mr Bemba's conviction must be reversed, that Mr Bemba can not be held criminally liable under article 28 of the ICC Rome Statute for the crimes within the scope of the case that were committed by MLC troops during the auto operation and that he must be acquitted thereof. He was sentenced in 2016 to 18 years in prison.

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".

Before Friday's decision, the ICC had issued verdicts in six cases, with nine people being convicted and one acquitted, according to its website.?

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Judge Monageng and Judge Hofmański found that all criminal acts for which Mr Bemba was convicted fell within the scope of the case that the Prosecutor had brought against him.

Next to the understandable rage of the victims, there is another very important aspect: If Bemba is released soon, as is expected, he will actively take a hand in Congo's politics.

The court heard how Bemba sent more than 1,000 fighters to vehicle back in 2002 to help then President Ange Felix Patasse put down an attempted coup. And this evidence was also presented to the appeal court judges.

Bemba was convicted on March 21, 2016 of murder, rape and pillaging between October 2002 and March 2003, when militia troops of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), who were under his command were sent to neighboring Central African Republic to quell a coup attempt. After losing the presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2006, Bemba fled the country, however, in 2008, was arrested on charges of war crimes.

It remains unclear whether Bemba intends to return to the country after his release.

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