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ICC sentences ex-Congolese V P to 18 years in prison

BBC
Jean-Pierre Bemba's lawyers say they will appeal
Jean-Pierre Bemba's lawyers say they will appeal

Congolese ex-rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba has been jailed for 18 years following a landmark conviction at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and sexual violence.

Bemba was found guilty in March of crimes committed in the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003.

He was accused of failing to stop his rebels from killing and raping people. Bemba's lawyers have already said they will appeal against his conviction.

Judges announced sentences of between 16 and 18 years for five counts of rape, murder and pillaging, with the jail terms running concurrently. The eight years Bemba has already spent in custody will be deducted from his term.

Passing sentence at the ICC in The Hague, Judge Sylvia Steiner said Bemba had failed to exercise control over his private militia sent into CAR, where they carried out "sadistic" rapes, murders and pillaging of "particular cruelty".

Bemba had sent more than 1,000 fighters to the CAR to help former 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.

Bemba's conviction was the first time the ICC has focused on rape as a weapon of war, and the first time a suspect had been convicted over crimes committed by others under his command.

He had led the MLC 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, becoming vice-president.

Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said the sentence offered "a measure of justice" for the victims.

"Other commanders should take notice that they, too, can be held accountable for rapes and other serious abuses committed by troops under their control," she said.

 


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