The International Criminal Court in The Hague has sentenced former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba to 18 years in prison for murder, rape and pillaging committed by his troops in Central African Republic more than a decade ago. Presiding judge Sylvia Steiner read out the sentence at the end of the short hearing as Jean-Pierre Bemba, wearing a dark suit and blue tie, listened intently. She said Bemba will get credit for the eight years he has already spent in prison.
The former Congolese vice president was convicted by the International Criminal Court in March of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his troops’ brutal campaign in Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. He is not only the first person convicted by a global war crimes court for crimes of sexual violence, but also the first to be held directly responsible for crimes committed by his soldiers.
“Mr. Bemba’s failure to take action was deliberately aimed at encouraging the attack directed against the civilian population… and directly contributed to continuation and further commission of crimes,” said Steiner.
The prosecution had asked for a minimum 25-year sentence for Bemba. His defense team says he will appeal, alleging the court made numerous mistakes.
During the sentencing, Judge Steiner recalled some of the most horrific testimony — like this one — of a rampage by Bemba’s soldiers.
“V1 was gang raped on two separate occasions during the one-day attack on Mungumba. First two soldiers took turns raping her, while others looked on shouting with joy. And then four soldiers raped V1 until she lost consciousness,” said Steiner.
Human Rights Watch says the sentence offers a measure of justice for victims in CAR, where armed groups have preyed on civilians for years. Others should take notice, HRW said, that they, too, may be held accountable for their acts.