THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Jun 21 – Judges at the International Criminal Court Tuesday sentenced former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba to 18 years in jail for a series of brutal rapes and murders in Central African Republic over a decade ago.
“The chamber sentences Mr Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo to a total of 18 years of imprisonment,” said judge Sylvia Steiner, ruling the former militia leader had failed to exercise control over his private army sent into CAR in late October 2002 where they carried out “sadistic” rapes, murders and pillaging of “particular cruelty.”
Bemba is the highest-level official to be sentenced by the ICC after being convicted in March on five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The atrocities were carried out by Bemba’s private army, the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC), when he sent them into neighbouring CAR in late October 2002 to put down a coup against then president Ange-Felix Patasse.
They unleashed a five-month campaign of terror aimed at squashing any resistance to Patasse’s rule.
Prosecutors had called for a sentence of at least 25 years at the end of Bemba’s lengthy trial which opened in November 2010.
His defence team has already filed notice that it intends to appeal the conviction and had argued that Bemba should be released immediately as he has already been in jail since his arrest in 2008.
But the three-judge bench said it had “not found any mitigating circumstances” to allow a reduction in sentence.
Reading out the sentence at the court, which is based in The Hague, judge Steiner said Bemba had done “more than tolerate the crimes as a commander”.
“Mr Bemba’s failure to take action was deliberately aimed at encouraging the attacks directed against the civilian population,” she said.
It is only the third sentence to be handed down by the ICC since it began work to prosecute the world’s worst crimes in 2002.