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ICC gives former rebel warlord 18 years for war crimes and crimes against humanity

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ICC gives former rebel warlord 18 years for war crimes and crimes against humanity

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  • Found guilty on five charges
  • Sentences of 16-18 years to run concurrently
  • Can appeal convictions and sentences

    What is happening?

A Congolese former rebel warlord has been sentenced to 18 years in prison by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, led a campaign of rape and murder in neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-3.

Bemba was found guilty on five charges.

He can appeal the convictions and sentences of 16 to 18 years, which will run concurrently.

What were his crimes?

Bemba, a former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, led a campaign of rape and murder in neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-3.

As commander of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, the 53-year-old was asked to send support troops during a civil war.

What did the ICC judge say?

Judge Sylvia Steiner said troops from the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), which Bemba directed, had acted with “particular cruelty” when they rampaged through the neighbouring country in support of the then-president, Ange-Felix Patasse.

One victim had described how, still a virgin, she had been raped in front of her father while other soldiers held him at gunpoint.

Steiner also said:

  • Bemba armed his troops but paid them so little they turned to pillage
  • Token attempts at discipline were meant to deflect international criticism
  • He will get credit for the eight years he has spent in ICC detention since his 2008 arrest.

“The chamber found that Mr Bemba did not genuinely intend to take all necessary and reasonable measures within his material ability to prevent or repress the commission of crimes,” Steiner told the court.

Did Bemba react to the verdict?

No.

He did not speak during the hearing.

He was given:

  • Three sentences of 18 years for rape and pillage
  • Two of 16 years for murder

All will be served concurrently.

Bemba can appeal his conviction and sentence.

Firsts

This is the first time the court has held someone directly responsible for the crimes of their subordinates.

It is also the first time the ICC has focused on the use of rape as weapon of war.

What is the backstory?

Bemba is the son of a businessman who prospered during years of close association with former Congolese leader Mobutu Sese Seko.

He entered government under the current President Joseph Kabila in 2003 as part of a power-sharing deal that ended years of civil war.

Originally a rebel force in Congo’s northwest, the MLC is now CAR’s second-largest opposition party.

Bemba retains a significant following in the west of the country.

What they are saying?

“We will continue and we will never cease denouncing the selective justice of the ICC,” – Eve Bazaiba, secretary general of Bemba’s MLC party criticises the court’s ruling.

“Other commanders should take notice that they, too, can be held accountable for rapes and other serious abuses committed by troops under their control,” – Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner of Human Rights Watch says the verdict offers justice for the victims of sexual violence in CAR.

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