Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former Congolese vice president who was convicted for failing to deter crimes by his soldiers, will have his sentence handed down by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges on June 21. According to an order by judges Sylvia Steiner (presiding), Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki, the sentence will be delivered in The Hague at 13:45 Central European Time during a public hearing.
Whereas prosecutors have asked for a minimum of 25 years in jail, his lawyers have argued that the time the Congolese politician has already spent in jail is proportionate to the crimes he was convicted for.
Bemba, 51, has been in ICC detention since June 2008. His trial opened in November 2010, and earlier this year judges convicted him on two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. Judges determined that he knew his troops were committing rape, murder, and pillaging against civilians in the Central African Republic, but he failed to take decisive steps to stop or to punish them. The crimes were committed during 2002-2003 when Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops were participating in an armed conflict in the neighboring country.
At the sentencing hearing held last month, prosecutors asked judges to hand Bemba a long prison sentence because his failure to take action aggravated the crimes by his subordinates. Furthermore, prosecutors said a long jail term was justified because Bemba’s MLC troops perpetuated crimes against defenseless civilians and with extreme cruelty.
However, the defense urged judges to bear in mind that Bemba did not order his troops to commit crimes nor did he witness or participate in committing the crimes. Defense lawyer Peter Haynes noted that Bemba’s culpability arose from his failure to control a small fraction of his soldiers who were thousands of miles away in a different country, and who committed crimes over a limited period of four months.
Article 77 of the court’s founding law, the Rome Statute, provides that the court may sentence a convicted person to a maximum of 30 years, or life imprisonment when justified by the extreme gravity of the crime and the individual circumstances of the convicted person. The two individuals previously convicted by the court, Congolese nationals Thomas Lubanga and Germain Katanga, were sentenced to prison terms of 14 years and 12 years respectively.