The prosecution has made the case for a longer prison sentence for Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was handed an 18-year jail term at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The prosecution argued that this sentence is disproportionate to Bemba’s culpability and the harm caused to victims of the crimes.
In the appeal document published on October 21, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asks judges to raise the prison sentence to at least 25 years. This was the same sentence the prosecution proposed in sentencing submissions last May.
Last June, Bemba was sentenced to 18 years for rape, 16 years for murder, and 16 years for pillaging. However, judges ruled that the sentences be served concurrently. Bemba, who was commander-in-chief of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) rebel group, was charged for failing to prevent or punish his troops who committed atrocities in the Central African Republic during 2002 and 2003.
In its appeal, the prosecution did not challenge trial judges’ determination of sentences for each crime. However, it claimed the overall sentence fails to reflect the distinct nature of the crimes of murder and pillaging and the harm suffered by victims of those crimes. Bensouda faults trial judges for imposing the minimum possible joint sentence allowed by Article 78(3) of the court’s Rome Statute. She argued that the judges failed to provide an adequate explanation of why the minimum possible joint sentence was appropriate in the context of the five individual sentences they imposed.
Article 78(3) states:
When a person has been convicted of more than one crime, the Court shall pronounce a sentence for each crime and a joint sentence specifying the total period of imprisonment. This period shall be no less than the highest individual sentence pronounced and shall not exceed 30 years imprisonment or a sentence of life imprisonment in conformity with article 77, paragraph 1 (b).
For its part, the defense contends that the 18 years’ prison sentence is “manifestly excessive” and asked appeals judges to substantially reduce it. It argued that, in international criminal law, such long sentences have been the preserve of those who committed the worst offenses, such as génocidaires, exterminators, mass murderers, and those who directly participated in the crimes, intended the consequences of their actions, and even took pleasure in what they did.
Defense lawyers contended that Bemba’s sentence surpasses the sentences handed “those directly responsible for murdering thousands of people at Srebrenica, torturing, murdering and raping hundreds of people in Balkan prison camps, recruiting and deploying hundreds of child soldiers in the Congo, and aiding and abetting the razing of a village to the ground whilst its inhabitants are murdered.”
On the other hand, argued the defense, Bemba did not kill or rape anybody, nor did he steal anything. “He did not tell anybody to do those things and he was hundreds of miles away in a different country when they happened,” claimed the defense, adding that Bemba was not in direct command of the individuals that committing the offenses. Moreover, defense lawyers state that judges found that MLC soldiers committed three offences of murder, 28 offences of rape and pillage.
Bemba’s lawyers have filed a separate appeal against the conviction, in which they argue that trial judges ignored crucial evidence submitted by the defense, failed to investigate allegations that prosecution witnesses had been bribed, and wrongly concluded that Bemba maintained effective control over his troops accused of brutalizing civilians. Moreover, the lawyers raise various fair trial issues related to investigations into Bemba and his colleagues for bribing witnesses and calls a stay of proceedings and Bemba’s immediate release.
Last month, Bemba and his associates were convicted for bribing witness, but their sentences will be announced at a later date.