The International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague on Tuesday sentenced Congolese former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo to 18 years imprisonment after he was found guilty of war crimes, and crimes against humanity, including allowing soldiers under his command to commit rape.
The former vice president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was convicted in March for acts committed in 2002 and 2003 by troops he commanded in the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo.
A statement from the ICC said Bemba was given sentences of between 16 and 18 years for each of five charges — two counts of crimes against humanity, for murder and rape, and three counts of war crimes, for murder, rape and pillaging. The sentences will be served concurrently, and the eight years Bemba has been detained since his arrest in Belgium in 2008 will count as time served.
"The Chamber also found that two aggravating circumstances applied to the crime of rape: it was committed (i) against particularly defenceless victims and (ii) with particular cruelty," the ICC said.
The case is the first time the court — which first sat in 2003 — has made a conviction for sexual violence as a war crime, and also represents the harshest punishment the court has issued. The two previous convictions at the court, also involving the DRC, have yielded sentences of 14 and 12 years.
Human Rights Watch's international justice advocacy director Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner has written that Bemba's case sends an important warning to military commanders in the field who turn a blind eye to rape and other atrocities committed by their troops. In a tweet on Tuesday, she praised the ICC's judges for a "powerful decision" on sentencing Bemba.