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Bemba Contests 18-Year ICC Sentence, Prosecutor Seeks Longer Jail Term

Jean-Pierre Bemba has filed a notice of appeal against the 18-year prison sentence handed to him by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges last June. However, the prosecution has also indicated its intention to appeal the sentence, with a view to asking judges to raise the sentence for the former rebel commander who was earlier this year convicted over the rape, murder, and pillaging committed by his soldiers 14 years ago.

In a July 22 notice, Bemba’s lawyers indicated intent to appeal against “the whole decision” on sentencing. “For reasons that will be provided in its document in support of the appeal, the Defense requests that the Appeals Chamber reverse and reduce Mr. Bemba’s 18‐year sentence,” the notice by defense lawyer Peter Haynes stated.

For her part, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda submitted that the former Congolese vice president deserved a longer prison term. The prosecution would “request the Appeals Chamber to reverse the joint sentence of 18 years of imprisonment and to revise it by increasing the term of imprisonment,” stated Bensouda, in the prosecution’s July 22 filing. According to Bensouda, the revision “should reflect the totality of Mr. Bemba’s culpability, as found by the Trial Chamber.”

Last March, Bemba was convicted of murder, rape, and pillaging stemming from his failure to take reasonable measures to deter or punish his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops as they brutalized civilians in the Central African Republic during 2002 and 2003. Following the verdict, Bemba’s lawyers filed a notice of intention to appeal against his conviction. The defense also applied for an extension of the time limit for filing its appeal, from 90 to 180 days. On April 15, appeals judge’s granted the defense request, giving Bemba’s lawyers until September 19, 2016 to file the appeal.

In sentencing submissions, the prosecutor asked judges to hand Bemba a minimum sentence of 25 years in jail, which she argued would act as a deterrent for other military commanders from committing similar crimes. However, the defense asked judges to hand the Congolese opposition leader a light sentence, arguing that the eight years he had already spent in jail was proportionate to the crimes he was convicted for.

Pursuant to the ICC’s founding law – the Rome Statute – an appeal against a sentence must be filed with the court’s Registry within 30 days of issuance of the conviction decision. The defense and prosecution’s appeal documents are yet to be made public.