Bosco Ntaganda plans to appeal his conviction at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 18 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“The Defense respectfully disagrees with the conclusions reached by Trial Chamber VI regarding Bosco Ntaganda’s acts and conduct as well as regarding the policy of the Union des Patriotes Congolais [UPC], of which Bosco Ntaganda was a member,” said Ntaganda’s lead defense lawyer, Stéphane Bourgon.
He added: “Justice has spoken, and as lawyers, we respect the judgment issued by Trial Chamber VI.” However, the defense noted it begun its analysis of the judgment and would continue to carefully review the many findings reached by judges. Nonetheless, added Bourgon, “The defense can already confirm that it intends to appeal the judgment.”
On Monday this week, judges at the ICC convicted Ntaganda on all counts he was charged with, in a trial that started in September 2015. Ntaganda was convicted, among others charges, for sexual slavery and rape, including of child soldiers who served within the militia he commanded.
Ntaganda has up to 30 days to lodge an appeal. In addition, following the conviction, judges issued a timetable for Ntaganda’s sentencing. The defense, prosecution, and victims’ lawyers have up to July 29, 2019 to file any requests to submit further evidence or to call witnesses as part of the sentencing process.
Ntaganda was found guilty of direct perpetration of three crimes in addition to being an indirect co-perpetrator on 15 other crimes. This is the highest amount charges any defendant before the ICC has been convicted of. Thomas Lubanga, the person serving the longest sentence handed down by the ICC – 14 years in prison – was convicted in 2012 as a co-perpetrator for the war crimes of conscripting, enlisting, and actively using children under the age of 15 years in armed conflict.
The last appeal to be lodged against an ICC conviction resulted in the acquittal of former Congo vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba last June. In 2016, Trial Chamber III judges had unanimously convicted Bemba on all five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity arising from his alleged failure to punish or control his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops who committed rape, murder, and pillaging in the Central African Republic. Bemba, who had been sentenced to 18 years in prison, had been in the court’s detention for a decade prior to his release a year ago.
Lubanga, who was Commander-in-Chief of the FPLC, the group in which Ntaganda was a senior commander, also appealed his guilty verdict, but judges upheld the conviction. Meanwhile, Germain Katanga, also sentenced over crimes committed in Ituri, decided not to appeal. That decision, along with his good behavior, cooperation with the court, and “genuine dissociation” from his crimes, were the reasons the prosecution supported the November 2015 decision by judges to reduce his sentence by three years and eight months. Katanga completed serving his sentence in January 2016 but remains in jail in Congo while local military authorities try him on separate charges to those he was convicted for at the ICC.
Malian Islamist leader Ahmed Al Faqi Al Mahdi is so far the only person to have been convicted on his own guilty plea. He was handed a nine-year prison sentence over his conviction on the single war crime of destroying historic and religious monuments.
In the statement to the International Justice Monitor today, Bourgon said he also deemed it necessary to rectify some incorrect information circulated in the media over the past two days regarding Ntaganda. “The defense neither argued that Mr. Ntaganda was kidnapped as a child nor that he was groomed to be a soldier. The defense rather asked the judges to consider Bosco Ntaganda as a commander who was trained and who trained his men pursuant to the highest standards,” he said.