WAR crimes prosecutors on Wednesday called for former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba to be sentenced “to at least 25 years” in prison for a slew of rapes and murders in the Central African Republic over a decade ago.
Bemba sat stony-faced at the end of three days of hearings at the International Criminal Court (ICC), as prosecution lawyers rejected his defence team’s calls for a lesser jail term.
“The sentence recommended by the prosecution ... should not be less than 25 years of imprisonment,” chief ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the court in The Hague.
Such a sentence would be justified by “the gravity of the offences committed by M. Bemba and his degree of culpability.”
After a lengthy trial which opened in November 2010, the judges in March found Bemba guilty of five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The three judges agreed with the prosecution that Bemba had retained “effective command and control” over 1,500 men he sent into the Central African Republic CAR to quell an attempted coup against the then president.
His Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) carried out a brutal series of rapes and murders in a campaign of terror, which experts testified would have long-term traumatic effects on the CAR people for generations.
Bemba’s defence team had called for a jail term not exceeding 12 to 14 years.
But another prosecutor, Jean-Jacques Badibanga, said such a sentence would have the “absurd consequences” of seeing a more lenient term applied by the ICC then in national courts trying people for murder and rape.
The judges will hand down their sentence at a later date.
The crimes in the CAR between October 2002 and March 2003 had been committed against “particularly defenceless victims” and “with particular cruelty,” the prosecutor told the court.
There “were no mitigating circumstances” which would allow the sentence to be reduced, he argued.
After the CAR conflict, Bemba, a wealthy businessman-turned-warlord, became one of four vice presidents in President Joseph Kabila’s transitional government.
In 2006, he lost to Kabila in a presidential run-off. He fled the next year into what he called “forced exile” in Europe and was arrested in Brussels in 2008 and handed over to the ICC.