On June 8, 2018, judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) will deliver the verdict in Jean-Pierre Bemba’s appeal against conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, appealed both his conviction and the 18-year prison sentence. Prosecutors also appealed the sentence, which they asked judges to raise to 25 years.
According to an order from the chamber handling the appeal, the judgement shall be delivered in open court at 16:00 local time in The Hague. The chamber is composed of judges Christine Van den Wyngaert (Presiding), Chile Eboe-Osuji, Sanji Monageng, Howard Morrison, and Piotr Hofmański.
In March 2016, 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.
This was the first time that an ICC defendant was convicted under the theory of command responsibility. The judges found that Bemba knew that his MLC troops were committing or about to commit crimes, but he failed to take reasonable measures to deter or to punish these crimes. Bemba was also the first person to be convicted of sexual and gender-based crimes at the ICC.
At an appeal hearing last January, defense lawyers argued that Bemba did not maintain effective control over his troops accused of attacking civilians, as there was no physical evidence of any orders given by him or evidence of him on the ground commanding the troops. They also argued that Bemba was denied a fair trial and his exculpatory evidence was unjustifiably dismissed, leading to his conviction.
The defense also implored judges to lower Bemba’s sentence, arguing that the nearly 10 years he had spent in detention were a sufficient sentence. Defense lawyer Kate Gibson said the 18-year sentence was disproportionate to the conviction, adding that it is “in fact so unreasonable as to constitute an abuse of the Trial Chamber’s discretion.”
However, victims’ lawyer Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson said sentencing Bemba to 18 years in prison did not correspond to the seriousness of the crimes he was convicted for.
Bemba has received the longest prison sentence of any individual convicted by the ICC. Besides the 18-year sentence, in March 2017, Bemba was handed a one-year prison and a fine of €300,000 for tampering with witnesses who testified in his defense. Judges confirmed that conviction on appeal but ordered that a new sentence should be imposed.