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Ruling on Bemba’s Appeal Against ‘Excessive’ Sentence for Witness Tampering Set for November 27

The ruling on Jean-Pierre Bemba’s appeal against what he terms an excessive sentence for witness tampering will be delivered by the International Criminal Court (ICC) Appeals Chamber on November 27, at 1400 local time in The Hague.

In September 2018, Bemba was handed a one-year prison term and a €300,000 fine, following his October 2016 conviction for corruptly influencing 14 witnesses and soliciting them to give false evidence. The sentence was considered served because he had already spent a longer period in ICC detention during the trial.

Subsequently, Bemba asked the Appeals Chamber to quash the conviction and sentence and to ensure that no further punitive measures are imposed on him beyond the time he already spent in ICC detention. Defense lawyers argued that the sentence handed the former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo is “manifestly excessive and disproportionate” and that his right to a fair and impartial trial was violated.

However, last August the Appeals Chamber “summarily dismissed” defense arguments aimed at a reversal or amendment of findings made in the trial chamber’s conviction decision. The Appeals Chamber, which is composed of judges Howard Morrison, Chile Eboe-Osuji, Piotr Hofmański, Luz del Carmen Ibáñez Carranza, and Solomy Balungi Bossa, also ruled that it would not consider arguments against the trial chamber’s approach to the evidence in the conviction proceedings.

Having ruled on the issue of possible reversal of the conviction, the chamber considered that, in deciding on the rest of the defense appeal, it  was essential to establish whether Bemba’s sentence for the witness tampering conviction could be reduced or quashed because of alleged violations of his rights in his main trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, in which he was acquitted on appeal.

The defense has argued that the sentence should be reversed because the trial chamber’s assessment of gravity and the degree of Bemba’s contribution was arbitrary and based on erroneous legal principles. Further, it stated that the trial chamber erred by failing to provide a timely remedy to cumulative violations of Bemba’s rights and incorrectly excluded his acquittal from its assessment of the gravity of his conduct.

For its part, the prosecution termed Bemba’s appeal a “whimsical” strategy and asked judges to dismiss it in order to bring the case to an expeditious closure. It stated in written submissions that the ICC “should not be asked to displace judicial certainty in favor of devoting countless time and resources to frivolous and obscure litigation.”

In March 2018, Bemba’s appeal against the conviction for witness tampering was rejected. However, his conviction for presenting false oral testimony was overturned. At the time, appeals judges sent the case back to the trial chamber to clarify its sentencing decision, and in September 2018, the trial judges maintained Bemba’s prison term of 12 months and the order to pay a fine of €300,000.