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Congo gov't says Jean Pierre Bemba has the right to return home

10 June 2018

The ICC on Friday overturned his conviction of an 18-year sentence over war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Bemba was sentenced in 2016 to 18 years in prison, after being convicted of charges of murder, rape and pillaging in the Central African Republic (CAR) during a 2002-2003 coup.

On that basis, the Appeals Chamber concluded, by majority, that Mr Bemba's conviction must be reversed, that Mr Bemba can not 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 auto operation and that he must be acquitted thereof.

Presiding Judge Christine Van den Wyngaert said Bemba can not be held accountable for the actions of his rebels, who raped, pillaged and murdered in 2002 and 2003.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda described the ruling as "regrettable and troubling".

More than 5,200 victims participated in Bemba's trial.

Bemba, a former Congolese senator and vice president, was the commander of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo when he was asked in 2002 and 2003 to send troops by President Ange-Felix Patasse in neighboring Central African Republic.

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Bemba's supporters in the packed public gallery were not so reserved; they cheered, whistled and hugged one another for so long that Van den Wyngaert threatened to halt proceedings if order was not restored. He sent fighters from the Movement for the Liberation of Congo to vehicle to suppress an attempted government coup.

And the court found that Bemba bore the bulk of the responsibility for their actions.

Bemba has been in custody at the ICC for almost a decade after authorities in Belgium arrested him there in 2008 and sent him to The Hague.

Appeal judges also said he had been "erroneously" convicted for specific criminal acts.

Following this Judgment, and while there is no reason to continue Mr Bemba's detention on the basis of the present case, it is for Trial Chamber VII to decide, shortly, whether Mr Bemba's continued detention is warranted in relation to his conviction for offences against the administration of justice.

He said Bemba would probably go to Belgium to meet with his family there before returning to Congo after he is released.

Congo gov't says Jean Pierre Bemba has the right to return home