Netherlands International Court Central African Republic

Former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, was on Tuesday sentenced by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to 18 years in jail for war crimes.

Bemba was found guilty in March on five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed over a decade ago in the neighboring Central African Republic, DW reports.

His private army, called the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC), had been sent to CAR from October 2002 to March 2003 to put down a coup attempt there against former President Ange-Felix Patasse. The ICC found Bemba guilty of letting his troops rape, murder and pillage the country.

“The chamber sentences Mr. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo to a total of 18 years’ imprisonment,” said judge Sylvia Steiner.

Bemba, a former Congolese rebel leader, becomes the highest-ranking official so far to be convicted by the ICC, the other two being former Congolese warlords Germain Katanga and Thomas Lubanga.

Since trial began in 2010, ICC prosecutors had urged that Bemba be imprisoned for at least 25 years given the gravity of his offences and degree of culpability, however, his lawyers had called for him to be released, pointing out that he had already spent eight years in jail before and during his trial.

“The appeal will not be limited… to criticism of the trial chamber’s findings, but will also allege that in material respects the whole trial process was flawed and unfair and that Mr. Bemba’s rights as an accused were violated throughout,” defense lawyer Peter Haynes said in a filing to the court.

Bemba was arrested in Brussels in 2008 and handed over to the ICC, with his former rebel group, MLC now the second-largest opposition party in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

(AP Photo/Michael Kooren, Pool)