THE HAGUE, Netherlands, June 21 (UPI) -- The International Criminal Court in The Hague sentenced former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba to 18 years imprisonment for war crimes Tuesday.
Bemba, 53, sat impassively as the sentence was read. He was convicted in March of five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for failing to prevent the rapes, looting and killings that his troops, the Congolese Liberation Movement, employed in a reign of terror as they attempted to suppress a coup in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.
He was sentenced to two 18-year terms and two 16-year terms, to run concurrently, and his time spent in a Belgian jail since 2008 will be deducted from his penalty. Bemba's lawyers have stated he will appeal the case.
The conviction and sentence are groundbreaking: Bemba is the first person to be convicted of war crimes by the ICC, an international court established in 2002 as a "court of last resort" to try major crimes. He is also the first to be held directly responsible for his subordinates' actions; his 1,500 troops engaged in a wide-scale rampage in the CAR for a five-month period, and ICC judges said Bemba could have stopped the violence but chose not to.
ICC judge Sylvia Steiner said Bemba failed to restrain the troops in his private army, resulting in "sadistic" rapes, killings and pillaging of "particular cruelty."
Bemba's trial was also the first to consider rape as a weapon of war and a war crime.
"Today's sentencing marks a critical turning point for the thousands of women, children and men who were victims of Bemba's orchestrated campaign of rape and murder," said Karen Naimer, an observer of the trial and director of the sexual violence in conflict zones program for the non-governmental group Physicians for Human Rights.
The case was also significant in that 5,200 witnesses, many of whom were victims, participated in the trial, and may now be eligible for reparations.