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ICC prosecutors push for a 25-year jail term for Congolese warlord Bemba

ICC prosecutors push for a 25-year jail term for Congolese warlord Bemba

Democratic Republic Of Congo

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) are pushing for a 25-year prison term for a former Vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean Pierre Bemba.

The prosecution on Wednesday rejected the defence team’s calls for a lesser jail term of between 12 and 14 years.

The ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda told the court that “the sentence recommended by the prosecution … should not be less than 25 years of imprisonment.”

Jean-Jacques Badibanga, one of the ICC’s prosecutors, explained to the court that the 25-year term will be justified by the “gravity of the offenses committed” by the warlord and “his degree of culpability”.

Bemba whose trial opened in November 2010 was found guilty of five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In March, he was convicted by the ICC for failing to stop his rebels from killing and raping people in the Central African Republic.

The three judges agreed with the prosecution that Bemba had retained “effective command and control” over 1,500 men he sent into the Central African Republic (CAR) to quell an attempted coup against the then president, reports the Daily Mail.

Bemba’s Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) is said to have carried out a brutal series of rapes and murders which experts say would have long-term traumatic effects on the people of the CAR.

A defense witness, Bishop Fridolin Ambongo who heads the Episcopal Justice and Peace Commission in Congo, on Monday sought to demonstrate that Jean-Pierre Bemba and his militia played a role in establishing peace and stability in the province of Equateur, northwest of the DRC.

But that does not seem to have persuaded the prosecution who still argue for a sentence of not less than 25 years.

An expert called by the prosecution who worked to establish the consequences of mass rapes committed in five months in the CAR reported high rates of post-traumatic stress disorders in dozens of casualties.

Bemba’s trial is the first time the ICC has focused on rape as a weapon of war and the first time a suspect has been convicted over crimes committed by others under his command.

The sentencing hearing which started on Monday ended on Wednesday and judges are expected to hand their sentence at a later date.

After the CAR conflict between 2002 and 2003, Bemba, a wealthy businessman-turned-warlord, became one of four vice presidents in President Joseph Kabila’s transitional government.

He however lost the bid to become the country’s president in the 2006 election when he lost to Kabila in a presidential run-off.

He fled the country the following year into what he called “forced exile” in Europe and was arrested in Brussels in 2008 and handed over to the ICC.

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