ICC overturns war crimes conviction for ex-Congolese leader Bemba

ICC overturns war crimes conviction of DRC's Bemba

He was one of just four people convicted by the war crimes court in its 16-year history, Reuters notes, and he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Jean-Pierre Bemba's supporters celebrate at the Congolese Liberation Movement, or MLC, headquarters upon learning Friday's verdict in Kinshasa.

Amnesty International called the acquittal "a blow" to the victims.

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

"We find it regrettable and troubling", Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said.

The conviction had marked several milestones.

"This was the first ICC case with a major focus on the use of rape as a weapon of war", she said. Bemba - a militia leader, businessman and later, a failed candidate for the DRC presidency - had sent the more than 1,000 soldiers to help put down an attempted coup against the CAR's president at the time.

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However, appeal Judge Van den Wyngaert said the judges in the original case had "ignored significant testimonial evidence that Bemba's ability to investigate and punish crimes in vehicle was limited". The judges in the minority would have confirmed Mr Bemba's conviction.

But what is clear is that this release will not be immediate: He was also convicted of a separate charge, witness tampering, and his appeal of that verdict remains in process. The International Committee of the Red Cross warned in January that half its population was in need of humanitarian aid, while the United Nations has had a peacekeeping force in the country since 2013.

Some of the witnesses who had never been in the military were issued ranks and insignia, according to the summary, and some were promised a new life in Europe.

Jean-Pierre Bemba's legion of loyal friends and family dressed up for the occasion in vibrant shades of traditional attire.

But the acquittal is a blow for prosecutors. Furthermore, in the view of the Appeals Chamber majority, there was an apparent discrepancy between the limited number of crimes within the case's scope for which Mr Bemba was held responsible and the Trial Chamber's assessment of which measures Mr Bemba should have taken.

Human rights groups are already saying the prosecution must learn from its failures and do more to ensure their evidence can stand up in court.

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