Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) overturned on Friday the conviction of the former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba. “The acquittal is a great disappointment and a lost, historic opportunity in the prosecution of wartime sexual violence,” said Esther Dingemans, Director of the Dr. Denis Mukwege Foundation.

“The decision means that 20 years after its creation, the ICC has convicted not a single person on sexual violence charges, even though rape and other forms of sexual violence are used as a tactic of warfare around the world.”

“Bemba case seen as a lost opportunity”

In 2016, Bemba was the first person who was found guilty of rape as a war crime and a crime against humanity at the ICC. On Friday, however, appeals judges did not confirm the conviction.

Bemba was charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes as the commander of the Congolese militia MLC. According to the prosecution, the group had committed murder, rape and pillage on a large scale in the neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.

“The Bemba case will be seen as a lost opportunity at the ICC. It highlights the challenges to hold commanders responsible for the crimes of their subordinates. This sends an incredible discouraging message to survivors of wartime violence around the word, who are completely left out in the rain.”

Need for innovative ways for reparations

The use of sexual violence as a tactic of warfare is a global scourge that affects countless individuals and communities around the world. “In the absence of a conviction, the Trust Fund for Victims and the international community must now do everything in finding ways to provide acknowledgement and support to the victims in the Central African Republic,” Dingemans said. “The families have waited far too long for justice.”

In June 2016, Jean-Pierre Bemba was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison. He was arrested and transferred to the ICC in 2008. His trial began in 2010.

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