Congolese ex-Vice President Bemba acquitted of war crimes on appeal
10 June, 2018, 20:17
The International Criminal Court has overturned the war crimes conviction and 18-year prison sentence of Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba.
However, the Appeals Chamber of the ICC ruled that he could not be held responsible for crimes committed by his troops.
The Appeals Chamber also dismissed as moot the appeals that Mr Bemba and the Prosecutor had brought against the sentence Trial Chamber III had imposed.
Bemba was arrested in 2008 by Belgian authorities and was charged with rape, killing, and looting against the civilian population in the vehicle.
Friday's ruling does not mean those crimes did not take place, but that Bemba can not be held criminally responsible for them.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda called the appeal decision "regrettable and troubling".
Amnesty International called the acquittal "a blow" to the victims. "More than 5,200 survivors of Bemba's atrocities participated in the ICC proceedings - for these fearless individuals, as well as thousands of other victims in vehicle, the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations will continue".
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.
"This was the first ICC case with a major focus on the use of rape as a weapon of war", she said.
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.
"The decision to acquit Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is an important reminder that worldwide justice is only possible if all suspects receive stringently fair trials before an independent and impartial judiciary", the human rights agency said.
But the two dissenting judges wrote that the majority had used the wrong standards for review and that its findings were, therefore, deeply flawed. The judges in the minority would have confirmed Mr Bemba's conviction.
Bemba, who has already spent nearly a decade in jail, will not be immediately released from detention in The Hague after he lost a separate appeal against a conviction for bribing witnesses.
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