On Friday, June 8, the appellate court of the worldwide criminal court in the Hague acquitted the former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Jean-Pierre Bemba, who two years ago was sentenced to 18 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity, reports DW. He denied responsibility for the crimes.
Presiding judge Christine Van den Wijngaert said that Bemba could not be held responsible for atrocities carried out by troops under his control in the neighbouring Central African Republic, and those trial judges had failed to consider the efforts he made to stop crimes once he became aware of them.
Reportedly, three of the five judges decided that he was convicted for crimes which had not been formally accused. The decision comes ahead of the country's contentious December 23 elections and could likely provide Bemba with the opportunity to be an influential contender or even presidential candidate.
"The carnage and suffering caused by those crimes are very real and they are recognized", she told journalists.
Solomon Sacco, the head of Amnesty International's global justice team, said, "The decision will be felt as a huge blow for the many victims of the "war against women" waged in the Central African Republic through a horrifying campaign of rape and sexual violence".
"For these fearless individuals, as well as thousands of other victims in auto, the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations will continue".
The sentence for witness tampering, however, is not likely to exceed the time already served by Mr. Bemba.
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"Twenty years after its creation, has the ICC just scuttled itself?" she said in a statement.
Fiona McKay of the Open Society Justice Initiative called the court's ruling a "major blow" to the prosecutor's office "given the vast resources that have been devoted to this case, which has lasted more than 10 years".
The court in The Hague also declared that it will now "urgently" supervise another case against Bemba for offenses to the administration of justice in which he was convicted, for which he is still in jail.
The message "to warlords seems to be: when you're not at the scene, let your troops commit the worst crimes and worst abominations, then say you had nothing to do with it, and we won't condemn you".
He said Bemba would probably go to Belgium to meet with his family there before returning to Congo after he is released.
After the Congolese war ended, Bemba laid down his arms and was awarded in 2003 one of four vice-presidential posts shared out among wartime rivals in a transitional government.
Frustration is rising in Congo against Kabila as the presidential election has been delayed since late 2016.