By Felix Tih
ANKARA (AA) – A former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was jailed for 18 years Tuesday for heading a campaign of rape and murder.
Jean-Pierre Bemba, 53, who has been in detention since 2008, was found guilty in March at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes.
The offenses relate to a barbaric campaign of killing and sexual violence in the neighboring Central African Republic (CAR) between October 2002 and March 2003 when a militia led by Bemba carried out acts of extreme violence against civilians that Bemba was aware of but did nothing to stop.
The conviction was the first time The Hague-based ICC has considered rape as a war crime or a crime against humanity. It is also the first case where a defendant has been convicted for crimes committed by those under his command.
In a televised hearing, Judge Sylvia Steiner said Bemba’s soldiers, who fought under him during the DRC’s 1998 to 2003 civil war, carried out “sadistic” crimes of “particular cruelty”.
The “sentence imposed, namely, 18 years for rape, reflected the totality of Mr. Bemba’s culpability,” she said.
Bemba – vice president in a transitional government between 2003 and 2006 under a peace deal – is the highest-ranking politician to be convicted by court.
He sent his more than 1,000 troops into CAR to prop up the regime of former President Ange Felix Patasse, who was eventually ousted.