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Published: Mon, June 11, 2018
Global Media | By Abel Hampton

ICC overturns war crimes conviction for ex-Congolese leader Bemba

ICC overturns war crimes conviction for ex-Congolese leader Bemba

The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court ruled Friday that the lower court decision had "made serious errors" when it found Bemba responsible for the violent crimes his militia carried out in the Central African Republic in the early 2000s.

'The Court of Appeals concluded by a majority that Bemba can not be considered responsible for the crimes committed by the MLC troops during the operation carried out in the RCA and must be acquitted, ' says the text of the final ruling of the ICC.

The court heard how Bemba sent more than 1,000 fighters to vehicle back in 2002 to help then President Ange Felix Patasse put down an attempted coup.

In a 3-2 ruling the divided court overturned Bemba's five-count conviction, which was unanimously handed down in 2016.

Bemba was was one of only four people convicted by the permanent war crimes court in its 16 years of operation, and the highest ranking among them.

Judge Christine Van den Wijngaert said Bemba, once the leader of Congo's main opposition party, could not be held responsible for crimes carried out by troops under his control in auto in 2002-2003.

Bemba, wearing a suit and tie, showed little emotion as Presiding Judge Christine Van den Wyngaert reversed his convictions.

Trial judges were also wrong in their finding that Bemba could in fact prevent crimes being committed by his MLC troops, they determined.

Amnesty International called the acquittal "a blow" to the victims.

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

"For these fearless individuals, as well as thousands of other victims in auto, the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations will continue". "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'".

"This was the first ICC case with a major focus on the use of rape as a weapon of war", she added.

Bemba's case had been seen as cementing the precedent that officials may be held liable for the actions of troops under their command.

Bemba remains in custody, however, because he still has a separate conviction related to witness tampering.

Mr. Bemba, once the leader of Congo's opposition, is expected to return to politics once released. He entered government under current President Joseph Kabila in 2003 as part of a power-sharing deal that ended years of civil war.

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