They say your past always catches up with you and in the case of former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, it has done so in spectacular fashion. The man who got the second highest number of votes in Congo’s 2006 presidential election was today sentenced to 18 years in prison by the ICC. But Bemba, who still harbours presidential ambitions, might be back home sooner than you think.
Judges at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday sentenced former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba to 18 years in jail for a series of brutal rapes and murders in the 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.
The ICC judge ruled that the former militia leader had failed to exercise control over his private army sent into the CAR in late October 2002 where they carried out “sadistic” rapes, murders and pillaging of “particular cruelty.”
He is the highest-ranking official to date to be sentenced.
Bemba, 53, was found guilty in March of five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by his private army, called the Congolese Liberation Movement, which he sent to neighbouring CAR from October 2002 to March 2003 to put down a coup.
The judges found in their March 21 verdict that the former Congolese vice-president turned a blind eye to a reign of terror by some 1,500 of his troops, sent to the CAR to prop up then president Ange-Felix Patasse.
Though he knew what was happening, Bemba “failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent” a litany of crimes, which included the gang rapes of men, women and children, sometimes as their relatives were forced to watch, the judges said.
As well as the issue of rape as a weapon of war, the Bemba case is also the first at the ICC to focus on a military commander’s responsibility for abuses committed by his troops, even if he did not order them.