Former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba has been sentenced to 18 years in prison by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for heading a 2002-03 campaign of rape and murder in neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR).
Bemba, a former Democratic Republic of Congo vice-president, in March became the first person to be convicted by the global war crimes court of crimes of sexual violence in war, as well as the first to be held directly responsible for his subordinates’ crimes.
In March, the ICC found the former Congolese vice president guilty on five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
A three-judge panel in The Hague ruled unanimously that Bemba was criminally responsible for acts of murder, rape and pillage carried out by his militia in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.
Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo, or MLC, was helping forces of then-CAR president Ange-Felix Patasse fight a rebel movement.
Judge Silvia Steiner of Brazil, who read the verdict in March, said evidence clearly showed that MLC fighters deliberately targeted civilians across the CAR and that victims included women, children and the elderly.
She said Bemba had effective control over the MLC at all times and knew his forces were about to commit atrocities.
Bemba had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
53 year old Bemba was arrested in Belgium in May 2008 and transferred to ICC custody that July.
He was previously one of four vice presidents in the Democratic Republic of Congo government from July 2003 to December 2006.
He fled the DRC in March 2007 after a gun battle in Kinshasa between his security guards and government forces.