Jean-Pierre Bemba the ex-rebel leader of DR Congo Army has received a jail sentence of 18 years following a landmark conviction at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague for his activity in war crimes and including sexual violence. He had been convicted earlier in March for crimes committed in the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002-2003 and also for failing to stop his rebel troops from carrying out crimes of rape and killing in that area. His Lawyers are planning to launch an appeal on his behalf against his conviction.
Judges announced sentences of between 16 and 18 years with the jail terms running concurrently over five counts of rape, murder and pillaging. Jean-Pierre Bemba has already spent 8 years in custody and this will be deducted from the sentence handed out to him.
It is a landmark ruling as it’s thought to be one of the first times the ICC had focused on rape as a weapon of war, and the first time a suspect had been convicted for crimes committed by others under his command.
Judge Sylvia Steiner passing her sentence at the Haugue said Bemba had failed to exercise control over his private militia sent into Central African Republic (CAR) where she described their actions in raping and pillaging as sadistic and cruel.
Two key issues remain however where Bemba will serve his sentence and what compensation compensation will be awarded to his victims.
Bemba was “extremely disappointed” with the sentence, his lawyer, Kate Gibson, told AFP news agency.
“Today’s sentence is by no means the end of the road for Mr Bemba, it merely signals that we are now moving to the next phase of the process which is the appeal,” she said.
In 2002 Bemba had sent more than 1,000 fighters to the CAR to help then president Ange Felix Patasse put down an attempted coup.
The court heard that his troops committed acts of extreme violence against civilians – crimes which the judge said Bemba was made aware of but did nothing to stop.
He had led the MLC (Congolese Liberation Movement) rebel group during DR Congo’s brutal civil war and after a 2003 peace deal he laid down his arms and joined an interim government.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the sentence offered “a measure of justice” for the victims.
- 2006: Loses run-off election to President Joseph Kabila but gets most votes in western DR Congo, including Kinshasa
- 2007: Flees to Belgium after clashes in Kinshasa
- 2008: Arrested in Brussels and handed over to ICC
- 2010: Trial begins
- 2016: Found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity