In early June the International Criminal Court appeals chamber acquitted Jean-Pierre Bemba in a 3-2 ruling. Two years ago Bemba was sentenced to 18 years’ for his role, as military commander, for atrocities committed in Central African Republic (CAR).
The decision astounded observers. The unexpected, narrowly decided acquittal, brought scads of criticism. This was because Bemba’s 2016 conviction was considered hugely significant. It assigned criminal responsibility to a senior military official physically removed from the violence. It also made sexual violence a centrepiece of the charges.
Sexual violence, a staple of war, has long been absent from international criminal law’s charge sheets. By assigning Bemba responsibility for the rapes committed by fighters under his command, the 2016 judgment was seen as an important doctrinal advance for international criminal law.
Bemba’s acquittal has wide implications. This is true both for Bemba as well as the ICC and international criminal law. Bemba, who will shortly be released, is rumoured to be returning to Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to pursue political goals. There are reports that his party, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, known as the MLC, has nominated him as its candidate for the presidential race.