ICC or­ders in­terim re­lease of DR Congo’s Bemba

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD - Jan Hennop and Mathieu Demesstere

JUDGES on Tues­day or­dered an in­terim con­di­tional re­lease of former Con­golese Vice Pres­i­dent Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was ac­quit­ted last week of war crimes af­ter a decade be­hind bars.

“To­day . . . the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court or­dered the in­terim re­lease un­der specific con­di­tions for Mr Jean-Pierre Bemba,”The Hague-based tri­bunal said in a state­ment. “Tak­ing into ac­count all rel­e­vant fac­tors and the cir­cum­stances of the case as a whole, the Trial Cham­ber con­sid­ers that the le­gal re­quire­ments for con­tin­ued de­ten­tion are not met.”

The Con­golese politi­cian was ac­quit­ted on ap­peal on Fri­day by the ICC, which said he could not be held li­able for crimes com­mit­ted by his troops in the Cen­tral African Repub­lic in 20022003. The sur­prise de­ci­sion came af­ter Bemba, 55, had been sen­tenced unan­i­mously to 18 years in 2016 by ICC trial judges af­ter a decade be­hind bars fol­low­ing his ar­rest in Belgium.

Bemba’s in­terim re­lease re­lates to a sep­a­rate case in which he was handed one-year jail sen­tence and fined € 300,000 ($350,000) in 2017 for brib­ing wit­nesses dur­ing his war crimes trial. He lost an ap­peal against that sen­tence and the ICC is yet to de­cide on a new jail term, which car­ries a maximum of five years. Sen­tenc­ing is on July 4.

Bemba’s lawyer Peter Haynes said his client planned to re­turn to Brussels to be united with his wife and five chil­dren. But the ICC’s judges al­lowed the former rebel com­man­der-turned-politi­cian to leave the court’s de­ten­tion unit at a Dutch prison in The Hague only if he ad­hered to strict re­quire­ments.

These in­cluded “sur­ren­der­ing him­self im­me­di­ately to rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties” if asked by the court, re­frain­ing from mak­ing state­ments on the case, not chang­ing his address with­out prior no­tice and not con­tact­ing any wit­nesses.

The ICC’s judges added the Con­golese politi­cian retroac­tively served “80 per­cent of the maximum pos­si­ble sen­tence” there­fore it was “dis­pro­por­tion­ate to fur­ther de­tain Mr Bemba merely to en­sure his ap­pear­ance for sen­tenc­ing.”

The 18-year sen­tence in Bemba’s main case was the longest ever to be handed down by The Hague-based court. Then, judges found Bemba guilty on five counts of war crimes and crimes against hu­man­ity com­mit­ted by his pri­vate army dur­ing a five-month ram­page in the neigh­bour­ing CAR.

Bemba had sent his mili­tia, the Con­golese Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment – a rebel force he later trans­formed into a po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion – into the DRC’s north­ern neigh­bour in Oc­to­ber 2002 to quash a coup against then-Pres­i­dent AngeFelix Patasse.

The trial was the first be­fore the ICC to fo­cus on sexual vi­o­lence as a weapon of war. It was also the first to de­ter­mine whether a mil­i­tary com­man­der bore re­spon­si­bil­ity for the con­duct of troops un­der his con­trol.

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