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DRC Warlord Jean Pierre Bemba Acquitted of War Crimes

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Bemba had been convicted by trial chamber III of the International Criminal Court in 2016 and sentenced to 18 years in prison. He had been found guilty of a devastating campaign of rape, murder and torture in the Central African Republic.
Former DRC War-Lord Jeanne Pierre Bembe
Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been acquitted of charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Bemba had been convicted by trial chamber III of the International Criminal Court in 2016 and sentenced to 18 years in prison. He had been found guilty of a devastating campaign of rape, murder and torture in the Central African Republic.

The alleged acts took place between October 2002 and March 2003 when Bemba's rebels operating as the 'Mouvement de Libération du Congo' helped to put down a coup against Ange-Felix Patasse, the former president of the Central African Republic.

Court heard that Bemba's men were involved in the gang rape of women and girls as young as 10, forced sons to rape their mothers in front of their fathers, raped wives in front of their husbands, and children in front of their parents.

The trial, which opened in November 2010, was the first before the ICC to focus on sexual violence as a weapon of war, and the first for the court to apply the principle of command or superior responsibility to convict someone, who was far from the battleground while his militia committed crimes.

The judges found that Bemba was culpable for having failed to prevent the crimes committed by his subordinates, and for doing nothing to punish the offences. 

He was to concurrently serve 16 years for murder as a war crime, 16 years for murder as a crime against humanity, 18 years for rape as a war crime, 18 years of imprisonment for rape as a crime against humanity and 16 years for pillaging as a war crime.

But his lawyers led by Peter Haynes  filed an appeal against the judgement stating that the trial judges chose to ignore much of the defence's evidence.

"A hatchet was simply taken to the defence case," Haynes told the five appeals judges in January, adding the trial court had taken an unbalanced approach to the evidence.

Haynes also said the judges invented a theory of command responsibility which is a military impossibility.  He said that once the MCL fighters crossed the border between the DRC and CAR, they were been placed under the authority of the Central African regular army. 

Today the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court-ICC decided, by the majority, to acquit Bemba from the charges.

The Judges observed that the trial chamber had erroneously convicted Bemba for specific criminal acts that were outside the scope of the charges as confirmed and that it made errors in its assessment of whether he took all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent, repress or punish the commission of the other crimes by his subordinates.

The court also hinted that there was an apparent discrepancy between the limited number of crimes within the case's scope for which Bemba was held responsible and the Trial Chamber's assessment of which measures he should have taken.

"On that basis, the Appeals Chamber concluded, by majority, that  Bemba's conviction must be reversed, that Bemba cannot be held criminally liable under article 28 of the ICC Rome Statute for the crimes within the scope of the case that were committed by MLC troops during the CAR operation and that he must be acquitted thereof," A statement by the International Criminal Court rules.

However, the chamber ruled that Bemba will remain in detention on account of another case in which he has been convicted of offences against the administration of justice, pending a decision of Trial Chamber VII in that case.  However, the entire time he has spent in detention, since 24 May 2008, will be deducted from his sentence.