The International Criminal Court on Friday overturned the conviction of former Congolese leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, who had been sentenced to 18 years in prison for war crimes in the Central African Republic.
Presiding Judge Christine Van den Wyngaert said Bemba cannot be held accountable for the actions o
f his rebels, who raped, pillaged and murdered in 2002 and 2003. He sent fighters from the Movement for the Liberation of Congo to CAR to suppress an attempted government coup.
The ICC, headquartered in the Netherlands, in 2016 convicted Bemba for the war crimes after a six-year trial, saying he knew about the war crimes. But Van den Wyngaert said the 2016 panel “made serious errors” in considering whether Bemba took reasonable measures to prevent his subordinates from committing crimes once he became aware of them.
Dissenting judges Sanji Mmasenono Monageng and Piotr Hofmanski said all the criminal acts for which Bemba was convicted fell within the scope of the ICCC case and they believe the trail chamber did not err when considering Bemba’s actions once he learned of the crimes.
Van den Wyngaert said it was up to the trial chamber to decide whether to release Bemba from his 18-year sentence. He also is serving time for bribing witnesses during the initial trial.
Amnesty International called the acquittal “a blow” to the victims.
“The decision to acquit Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is an important reminder that international justice is only possible if all suspects receive stringently fair trials before an independent and impartial judiciary,” the human rights agency said.
By Danielle Haynes