Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba has war crimes conviction overturned

Jean-Pierre Bemba in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague

On Friday, June 8, the appellate court of the worldwide criminal court in the Hague acquitted the former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Jean-Pierre Bemba, who two years ago was sentenced to 18 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity, reports DW.

Bemba was convicted in 2016 on charges of having committed war crimes by allowing his forces to go on rampage in Central African Republic killing people in 2002 and 2003.

She noted that judges did not deny Bemba's troops had committed atrocities "which resulted in great suffering in the Central African Republic".

Bemba was transferred to the ICC in July 2008 and charged with three counts of war crimes - murder, rape, and pillaging - and two counts of crimes against humanity - murder and rape. The court called a status conference in his case for June 12, which Bemba's lawyer called "unacceptable" given that the maximum sentence on that charge is five years and Bemba has already been jailed for 10.

Presiding Judge Christine Van den Wyngaert said Bemba can not be held accountable for the actions of his rebels, who raped, pillaged and murdered in 2002 and 2003.

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 called the appeal decision "regrettable and troubling".

But a majority of appeals judges decided Friday that the verdict did not fairly account for Bemba's efforts to stop his troops' crimes once he became aware of them - and that since he was acting as a remote commander, his power to do so was limited.

More than 5,200 victims participated in Bemba's trial. Bemba sent more than 1000 fighters to help stop the coup. And this evidence was also presented to the appeal court judges. The judges in the minority would have confirmed Mr Bemba's conviction.

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

Following this Judgment, and while there is no reason to continue Mr Bemba's detention on the basis of the present case, it is for Trial Chamber VII to decide, shortly, whether Mr Bemba's continued detention is warranted in relation to his conviction for offences against the administration of justice.

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