Jean-Pierre Bemba: Congo warlord's conviction overturned :: Kenya

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In a blow to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court and to victims of rape and murder in a conflict-ravaged African nation, appeals judges on Friday overturned the convictions of former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba for atrocities committed by his forces in Central African Republic.

Bemba, a former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, had been sentenced to 18 years in prison in June 2016 for alleged crimes including murder and rape.

Bemba had sent his militia, the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC), into the auto in October 2002 to quash a coup against the then president, Ange-Felix Patasse. That original verdict, rendered in March 2016, had determined that Bemba "failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent or repress the commission of crimes by his subordinates".

Bemba was found guilty in 2016 of crimes committed in the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) from 2002 to 2003.

Appeal judges also said he had been "erroneously" convicted for specific criminal acts. "Bozizé, the rebel who attacked a legitimate and legal government, never responded to the ICC", added another Bemba supporter.

"The carnage and suffering caused by those crimes are very real and they are recognized", she told journalists.

But human rights group Amnesty International said it was a "huge blow" for the victims of a "horrifying campaign of rape and sexual violence", as it called on the authorities to redouble their efforts to prosecute those who had carried it out.

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"5,229 survivors of Bemba's atrocities participated in the ICC proceedings - for these courageous individuals, as well as thousands of other victims in vehicle, the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations will continue", he said.

The sentence for witness tampering, however, is not likely to exceed the time already served by Mr. Bemba.

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".

Rights' advocates had hoped that Bemba's case would cement the precedent that political and military leaders could be held liable for the actions of troops under their command.

In a separate case, he was convicted of coaching and bribing witnesses to give false testimony during his trial and is waiting for a decision on that sentence.

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

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