ICC overturns 18-year sentence against former DR Congo vice president

File The ICC overturned the war crimes conviction of Congolese politician Jean Pierre Bemba on Friday

The International Criminal Court has overturned the war crimes conviction and 18-year prison sentence of Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Presiding Judge Christine Van den Wyngaert said Bemba can not be held accountable for the actions of his rebels, who raped, pillaged and murdered in 2002 and 2003.

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.

Christine Van den Wijngaert also said the judges in the 2016 case had failed to take into account his attempts to stop the crimes once he was made aware they were taking place.

Reportedly, three of the five judges decided that he was convicted for crimes which had not been formally accused.

Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng and Judge Piotr Hofmański appended a joint dissenting opinion in which they explained why they disagreed with the majority's decision to acquit Mr Bemba.

Prosecutors at his trial said Bemba knew that MLC forces under his authority and control were committing or were about to commit war crimes.

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

Human rights group Amnesty International said the ICC's ruling was a "huge blow for the many victims" who had suffered during the war waged in the central African country.

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Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is seen in a court room of the ICC to hear the delivery of the judgment on charges including corruptly influencing witnesses by giving them money and instructions to provide false testimony and false evidence, in the Hague, the Netherlands, March 21, 2016.

"For these courageous individuals, as well as thousands of other victims in auto, the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations will continue", he added.

"Twenty years after its creation, has the ICC just scuttled itself?" she said in a statement.

And the court found that Bemba bore the bulk of the responsibility for their actions.

Bemba was also tried separately, alongside his lead defence lawyer, Aimé Kilolo-Musamba, and his case manager, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, as well as a member of the Congolese Parliament and a defence witness.

It remains unclear whether Bemba intends to return to the country after his release. But Haynes called his client's continued detention outrageous, given that Bemba has already served more time than the maximum sentence for tampering.

The son of a businessman, Bemba amassed considerable wealth during the military dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, whose 30-year rule ended shortly before his death in 1997.

Kabila was supposed to give up the presidency at the end of 2016 but he has clung to power, repeatedly putting off elections.