ICC overturns ex-DRC VP Bemba's war crime convictions

ICC overturns former DRC Vice President's war crimes conviction

On Friday 8 June 2018, the International Criminal Court (ICC) acquitted Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, the former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, for his involvement in the conflict in Central African Republic (CAR), which included a campaign of rape and sexual violence against women.

They also asked the judges to lower his sentence, given that he has already spent close to a decade behind bars at the ICC's detention centre in The Hague.

The ICC has now upheld his appeal against the 2016 ruling, to cheers from his supporters in the gallery.

"The decision to acquit Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is an important reminder that global justice is only possible if all suspects receive stringently fair trials before an independent and impartial judiciary".

Bemba was found guilty in 2016 of crimes committed in the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) from 2002 to 2003.

However, appeal Judge Van den Wyngaert said the judges in the original case had "ignored significant testimonial evidence that Bemba's ability to investigate and punish crimes in auto was limited".

Prosecutors, meanwhile, have appealed his sentence, urging judges to raise it to 25 years.

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Bemba, who was vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2003 to 2006, was then ordered to pay a $323,670.00 fine to the court's fund supporting victims of atrocities.

Bemba was one of only four people convicted by the permanent war crimes court in its 16 years of operation, and the highest ranking among them. Furthermore, in the view of the Appeals Chamber majority, there was an apparent discrepancy between the limited number of crimes within the case's scope for which Mr Bemba was held responsible and the Trial Chamber's assessment of which measures Mr Bemba should have taken.

Van den Wyngaert said Bemba would not immediately be released because a separate panel of ICC judges is still considering what sentence he should be given in a conviction for interfering with witnesses in his trial.

More than 5,200 victims participated in Bemba's trial.

"The Appeals Chamber in this instant reverses the conviction against Mr Bemba. and in relation to the remaining criminal acts it enters an acquittal", Van den Wyngaert said.

Karine Bonneau of the International Federation for Human Rights slammed Friday's decision. "Delivering this judgment, it seems to say to the warlords: 'As long as you are not on the scene, let your troops commit the worst crimes and the worst abominations, say that you have nothing to do with that and we will not condemn you"'.

Mr. Bemba, once the leader of Congo's opposition, is expected to return to politics once released.

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