International Criminal Court (ICC) judges will hear the evidence of two witnesses as part of the sentencing hearing for Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former Congolese vice president who was last March found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The judges will also hear the views and concerns of two victims. However, judges rejected a request by Bemba’s lawyers to recall two individuals who testified for the defense during the trial.
The sentencing hearing will be held on May 16 to 18 at the court in The Hague. The witnesses who will testify are Dr. Daryn Reicherter, who will testify for the prosecution, and Bishop Fridolin Ambongo, who will testify as a character witness for Bemba.
According to an order issued by judges, the testimony by Reicherter, who is the Director of the Program for Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health at Stanford University, may assist the chamber in determining Bemba’s appropriate sentence. The expert’s evidence will cover the “longitudinal and intergenerational impact of crimes,” such as mass rape and sexual violence, on the mental health of victims, their families, and the affected population. According to the judges, aspects of the evidence – such as the effects of trauma on parenting, intergenerational transmission of trauma, and healing prospects – have not previously featured in the evidentiary record.
Meanwhile, Bishop Ambongo, the head of the Episcopal Justice and Peace Commission in Congo, will give evidence on matters relevant to mitigating circumstances, particularly Bemba’s behavior prior and subsequent to the crimes over which he was convicted. The defense says he will also testify to the role of Bemba and his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) in bringing peace and stability to the Central African region.
Judges considered that contrary to submissions by victims’ lawyers, the Bishop’s proposed testimony “may indeed be relevant” because mitigating circumstances are not limited to those falling within the geographical scope of the charges. The testimony by the bishop will relate to the MLC and Bemba’s activities in Congo’s Equatorial province, whereas the crimes he was convicted for were committed across the border in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Victim a/0555/08 and Victim a/0480/08 will present their views and concerns to the sentencing hearing via video link. The chamber considered that victim a/0480/08’s account was relevant to sentencing in light of various findings in the judgment, in particular concerning evidence of crimes committed in Bossembélé town, and the impact of the crimes of rape, murder, and pillaging on victims and their families. According to the victim’s lawyer, there is limited information in the record concerning victims of crimes in Bossembélé and the impact on the relatives of murder victims.
Meanwhile, judges determined that the account of victim a/0555/08 is representative of a larger number of victims and decided to authorize her to present her views and concerns. According to her lawyer, the victim’s account is representative of the harm suffered by a number of victims who were subjected to repeated rapes, abduction, and detention.
However, judges declined requests to hear the views and concerns of Victim a/1226/11 and Victim a/0272/08. They noted that evidence and views and concerns of victims related to acts of rape and pillaging in Bangui city and along the Bangui-PK22 axis, who suffered harm similar to that suffered by victims a/1226/11 and a/0272/08, had already been presented at trial. Given the limited scope of the current phase and judges’ obligations to ensure the fair and expeditious conduct of the proceedings, the chamber did not consider it necessary to call the two victims.
Judges also declined a defense request to call General Jacques Seara (who previously testified for Bemba as Witness D53) to provide further expert evidence on the command levels within a military structure in general and specifically within the MLC, and the efficacy ordinarily to be expected of the measures Bemba took when he learned that his troops were committing crimes. The prosecution objected to the defense request, saying the military expert’s evidence would infringe on the chamber’s fact-finding function, as it relates to findings on the merits already reached in the judgment, not mitigating circumstances.
Judges ruled that they reached findings on these matters in the judgment, based on evidence from this expert and other sources. They also noted that the sentencing phase is not an opportunity to re-litigate such matters.
The chamber also found that the defense had not demonstrated good cause to recall Witness P15, who testified for the prosecution for five days in February 2012. The defense had wanted this witness to predominantly offer character evidence and to assist the chamber in relation to the aims and ambitions of the MLC and Bemba’s contribution to the development of peace in Congo and the wider Central African region.