Published: Tue, June 12, 2018

Congolese warlord faces verdict in war crimes appeal

Congolese warlord faces verdict in war crimes appeal

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 had been found guilty of a devastating campaign of rape, murder and torture by troops he sent to the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

Van den Wijngaert said Bemba's efforts to stop the crimes "extinguished his responsibility in full".

In 2002, the then CAR President Ange-Félix Patassé, had invited Bemba, who was the Movement of Liberation of the Congo (MLC) President and Commander-in-Chief, to the country to prevent a coup.

"Mr Bemba can not 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 however remains behind bars in a separate case in which he was sentenced to one year in jail for bribing witnesses during his main war crimes trial.

But the two dissenting judges wrote that the majority had used the wrong standards for review and that its findings were, therefore, deeply flawed.

Judges are to decide "shortly whether Mr Bemba's continued detention is warranted", Van den Wyngaert said.

Reportedly, three of the five judges decided that he was convicted for crimes which had not been formally accused.

But in a scathing assessment, the Hague-based ICC's appeal judges said Bemba was "erroneously" convicted for specific criminal acts.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, pictured in 2016, had been sentenced to a total of 18 years in prison.

"Twenty years after its creation, has the ICC just scuttled itself?" she said in a statement.

Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende said on Friday that Bemba had the right to return home if released. "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"'.

Frustration is rising in Congo against Kabila as the presidential election has been delayed since late 2016.

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