Congolese Bemba liberation as blow to prosecution

The International Criminal Court (ICC), The Hague, the Netherlands, on Friday, June 8, overturned the war crimes conviction of former Democratic Republic of Congo Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba,  considered as a huge blow to prosecutors that could also impact politics in his home country in future.

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. He had been convicted of murder, rape and pillage for actions by fighters he sent to Central African Republic to back CAR’s then-president Ange-Felix Patasse.

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 CAR in 2002-2003.

Dismissing his 18-year-sentence, she said trial judges had failed to consider his efforts to stop crimes committed by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) once he became aware of them, and how difficult it would have been for him to control the troops’ actions from a distance.

Mr Bemba cannot be held criminally responsible for the crimes committed by MLC troops during the Central African Republic operation,” she said, reading the ruling of a 5-judge appeal panel. Bemba’s efforts to stop the crimes “extinguished his responsibility in full”, she said.

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