Home Headline ICC sentences former DRC VP, Bemba to 18 years in jail

ICC sentences former DRC VP, Bemba to 18 years in jail


The International Criminal Court has sentenced Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to 18 years in prison for rape and pillage committed by his troops, becoming the highest-level official to be sentenced at the court.
Bemba, 53, wearing a blue suit and tie, watched impassively from the dock during the hearing at The Hague on Tuesday. He is the third person convicted by the controversial court set up to try the world’s worst crimes in 2002.
Bemba was found guilty in March of five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by his private army – the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) – after he sent them into the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) from October 2002 to March 2003 to put down a coup.
“I believe this is a very important day for international criminal justice, especially when it comes to sexual and gender-based crimes,” the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, told Agence France-Presse news agency at the time.
Other activists praised the verdict.
“Today’s sentencing marks a critical turning point for the thousands of women, children and men who were victims of Bemba’s orchestrated campaign of rape and murder,” said Karen Naimer, the director of the sexual violence in conflict zones programme at Physicians for Human Rights.
“The punishment meted out today can’t turn back the clock, but it can bring a measure of closure to those victims who’ve waited patiently more than a dozen years for this day to come,” she said.
The conviction was the ICC’s first verdict to recognise rape as a weapon of war and to employ the doctrine of command responsibility: that leaders are accountable for the crimes of their subordinates, the group said.
The court told Bemba that the years he had spent behind bars since his arrest in Belgium in 2008 and subsequent detention would be deducted from his sentence.
Earlier in the day Bemba’s lawyers said they would appeal against his war crimes conviction and press for a mistrial.
In their ruling, three trial judges found that Bemba was responsible as the military commander of the MLC for a reign of terror by about 1,500 of his troops, including wide-scale rapes and murders, as they sought to quash a coup against the then CAR president Ange-Félix Patassé.
Bemba, who in 2002 became one of four vice-presidents of Congo under a peace agreement brokered by South Africa which ended the bloody civil war, was sentenced to two 18-year terms and two 16-year terms, to run concurrently.
The ICC was set up to be an independent international “court of last resort” for grave crimes that could not be dealt with locally.
However, the institution has repeatedly been criticised for unfairly targeting Africa and African leaders. Critics point out that nine of the 10 “situations” currently being examined by the court relate to Africa.
Several African governments have threatened to quit the ICC.
In February, the African Union backed a proposal by Kenyatta “to develop a road map for the withdrawal of African nations” from the court.
Last month, Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, called the ICC useless during a swearing-in ceremony for his fifth term in power, prompting a walk-out by western diplomats.
Museveni has been named as a supporter of Bemba during Congo’s most recent civil war.