Congo warlord, Jean-Pierre Bemba's conviction overturned

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On 21 June 2016, Bemba was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Friday upheld an appeal against the 2016 conviction of Democratic Republic of Congo warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba.

The ICC Appeals Chamber decided by majority to acquit Bemba Gombo from the charges of war crimes & crimes against humanity.

Rights' advocates had hoped that Bemba's case would cement the precedent that political and military leaders could be held liable for the actions of troops under their command.

Judge Christine Van den Wijngaert said Bemba, once the leader of Congo's main opposition party, could not be held responsible for crimes carried out by troops under his control in neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

Friday's decision was greeted by cheers from his supporters in the gallery.

"We find it regrettable and troubling", Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said of the reversal.

Amnesty International said the victims who took part in Bemba's trial will continue to seek justice.

"For these fearless individuals, as well as thousands of other victims in vehicle, the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations will continue", he added.

The conviction had marked several milestones.

The trial was the first before the ICC to focus on sexual violence as a weapon of war.

In 2002, the then CAR President Ange-Félix Patassé, had invited Bemba, who was the Movement of Liberation of the Congo (MLC) President and Commander-in-Chief, to the country to prevent a coup.

In addition, the judge said trial judges had failed to consider the efforts he made to stop the atrocities once he became aware of them.

Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende said that Bemba had the right to return home if released, Reuters reported.

But what exactly was Bemba accused of?

But in a scathing assessment, the Hague-based ICC's appeal judges said Bemba was "erroneously" convicted for specific criminal acts.

There were scenes of jubilation never before witnessed inside the International Criminal Court.

"I cry with joy because Jean-Pierre Bemba was a dead man".

Some will say the verdict proves this court, often derided as a neo-colonial tool, is driven purely by truth and facts.

Prosecutors at his trial said Bemba knew that MLC forces under his authority and control were committing or were about to commit war crimes.