Bemba gets 18 years for Central African Republic war crimes

Jean-Pierre Bemba is the first person to be convicted by the ICC of crimes of sexual violence in war.

FILE: Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court. Picture: Gallo Images/AFP.

AMSTERDAM - Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba was sentenced to 18 years in prison by the International Criminal Court on Tuesday for heading a 2002-03 campaign of rape and murder in neighbouring Central African Republic.

The 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.

Bemba, who served as vice president from 2003 to 2006, failed to discipline or restrain his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers as they rampaged through the neighbouring country, the International Criminal Court's presiding judge, Sylvia Steiner, said three months ago.

Though Bemba had punished some low-ranking soldiers for crimes and ordered inquiries into allegations of misconduct, which included raping girls aged as young as 10, these attempts were half-hearted at best, judges said.

MLC soldiers had pillaged to supplement their meagre wages during the intervention in support of Central African Republic's then-president Ange-Felix Patasse, who was eventually deposed by rebels led by his successor, Francois Bozize.