Congolese warlord Jean Pierre Bemba will serve 10 years in jail for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by his troops in the Central African Republic.
Judges who had presided over Bembaâ€™s four-year trial as Chamber III handed down 18 years imprisonment for rape as a war crime and a crime against humanity committed by Bembaâ€™s troops in the Central African Republic, but ordered that the eight years he has been held in detention be deducted from his sentence. They additionally sentenced him to 16 years each for murder as war crime, crime against humanity, and pillaging as a war crime, which would run concurrently with his main sentence.
Judges declined requests by the ICC prosecutor and the common legal representative for victims to a sentence of 25 years and 30 years, respectively. Yet, the judges sent out the clearest signal yet that they considered rape to be a more serious crime than murder, saying: â€œThe highest sentence imposed â€“ 18 years â€“ reflects the totality of Mr Bembaâ€™s culpability. The Chamber decides that the sentences imposed for the war crime of rape, the war crime of shall run concurrently. Imprisonment is a sufficient penalty, entitled to credit for his sentence.â€
Ms Brigid Inder, Executive Director of the Womenâ€™s Initiatives for Gender Justice, praised the decision, saying, â€œThis is the first sentencing decision by the ICC for an individual convicted of crimes of sexual violence as well as the first sentence issued for an individual charged with command responsibility. We noted the Chamberâ€™s very strong and clear statements with respect to rape including that the commission of rape was of utmost gravity and that it was committed with particular cruelty against defenceless victims, which it recognised as aggravating circumstances.
â€œWe were pleased to note the amount of time in todayâ€™s decision that the Chamber spent on addressing the crime of rape and the harm caused to victims. The Chamber imposed the highest sentence of 18 years for rape, although many of those harmed and within the affected communities in the Central African Republic may consider this sentence not high enough given Mr Bembaâ€™s responsibility as the Commander-in-Chief. However, it is the highest sentence issued to date by the ICC and this is encouragingâ€™, Ms Inder added.
Bemba was arrested by Belgian authorities on May 24, 2008 following the issuance of an ICC arrest warrant, and surrendered to the Court on June 3, 2008. On June 15, 2009, the charges against him were confirmed. His trial started on November 22, 2010 and the closing oral statements of parties and participants were delivered on November 12 and 13, 2014.
More than 5,000 victims were granted the right to participate in the hearings â€“ the highest number in any of the cases before the court. They pleaded with the court to hand Bemba the maximum sentence of 30 years.
A sentence cannot exceed a maximum of 30 years, except when justified by the extreme gravity of the crime and the individual circumstances of the convicted person, in which case, a sentence of life imprisonment may be imposed.