Congo gov't says Jean Pierre Bemba has the right to return home

File The ICC overturned the war crimes conviction of Congolese politician Jean Pierre Bemba on Friday

File The ICC overturned the war crimes conviction of Congolese politician Jean Pierre Bemba on Friday

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has reversed the conviction of the former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity two years ago.

Bemba was sentenced in 2016 to 18 years in prison, after being convicted of charges of murder, rape and pillaging in the Central African Republic (CAR) during a 2002-2003 coup.

She noted that judges did not deny Bemba's troops had committed atrocities "which resulted in great suffering in the Central African Republic".

He was accused of failing to prevent his rebels from raping and killing.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda called the appeal decision "regrettable and troubling". "More than 5,200 survivors of Bemba's atrocities participated in the ICC proceedings - for these fearless individuals, as well as thousands of other victims in vehicle, the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations will continue".

Friday's ruling does not mean those crimes did not take place, but that Bemba can not be held criminally responsible for them.

"The decision to acquit Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is an important reminder that global justice is only possible if all suspects receive stringently fair trials before an independent and impartial judiciary", the human rights agency said.

The two judges who disagreed wrote a dissenting opinion in which they said the acquittals were based on "an incorrect standard of appellate review", the court said.

The 55 year old who fled DRC after losing a presidential poll was arrested in Belgium in 2008.

Presiding judge Christine Van den Wijngaert on Friday, said the former vice-president and leader of the country's main opposition party could not be held responsible for crimes committed by troops under his control in neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

Appeal judges also said he had been "erroneously" convicted for specific criminal acts.

Bemba was not released immediately on Friday despite his acquittal because he has also been convicted of witness tampering, and an appeals judgment in that case is still pending.

It remains unclear whether Bemba intends to return to the country after his release.

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