ICC: Forthcoming Bemba Verdict Significant for Sexual Violence

Jean-Pierre Bemba during his trial (c) Reuters
Jean-Pierre Bemba during his ICC trial in 2013    © Reuters

The International Criminal Court (ICC) recently heard closing speeches in the case against former vice-president of the DRC, Jean-Pierre Bemba. 

Bemba is charged with command responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by troops from the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) when they went into the Central African Republic in 2003 to assist then-President Patassé with quashing a rebellion.

The Prosecution allege that the MLC troops were under Bemba’s effective command and control, that he knew or ought to have known that they were committing crimes, and that he failed to take steps to prevent the crimes or punish the soldiers.

Sexual violence has been a prominent part of the case against Bemba. Then-Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in his opening speech that:

“Women were raped systematically to assert dominance and to shatter resistance; men were raped in public to destroy their authority, their capacity to lead.”

According to the Prosecution, Bemba’s troops systematically raped, pillaged and murdered civilians in the CAR and committed hundreds of sexual assaults within a few days.

Defence counsel for Bemba, Peter Haynes QC, demanded Bemba’s acquittal contending that he did not receive information that crimes were being committed; that the troops fought under the command of CAR’s national armed forces and not Bemba; and that he tried to prevent the crimes.

iLawyer Guénaël Mettraux considers the judgment, which is due in 2015, to be a potential benchmark ruling, setting the standards by which political or military leaders will be held responsible for crimes committed by their subordinates:

“The decision might have relevance around the world because the ICC could very well set a precedent for other situations.”

Whilst sexual violence has been charged in other cases before the ICC, most famously in Lubanga and Katanga and Ngudjolo, all three defendants were acquitted on these counts.

The CAR continues to experience ongoing conflict and some observers are sceptical about the effect that the ICC judgment could have in the region. Patrick Vinck, researcher at the Harvard Humanitarian Institute warns that the trial, which took place 10 years after the atrocities, is not only a failure of the ICC but a failure of the international community to help the CAR achieve peace.

Expert Initiative on Promoting Effectiveness at the International Criminal Court

International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court

Yesterday, the Report of the “Expert Initiative on Promoting Effectiveness at the International Criminal Court” was officially launched at an event at The Hague Institute for Global Justice.

The Report was prepared by a group of experts in the field of international criminal law (practitioners and law professors) over a period of eighteen months.

It was supported by the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland and made possible by the assistance of the Embassy of Switzerland in The Hague (The Netherlands) and the University of Amsterdam (UvA).

The Report contains an in-depth expert evaluation of the work and performance of the Court in a number of areas of activity relevant to the fulfillment of its mandate. Based on this evaluation and where pressing issues were identified, the Report recommends practical solutions that could be incorporated into the current practices of the Court to better its performance both in the short and long run. The Report provides recommendation not only to the organs of the Court but also to the States Parties and the ASP. Continue reading

ICC: Appeals Chamber Upholds Verdict and Sentence Against Thomas Lubanga

Thomas Lubanga © Reuters

Today the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) delivered its judgments on Thomas Lubanga’s appeal against the verdict issued by ICC Trial Chamber I, that Mr Lubanga was guilty of the enlistment, conscription and use in hostilities of children under the age of fifteen.

The Appeals Chamber issued simultaneously its judgment on the appeals of the Prosecutor and Mr Lubanga against the sentence imposed by the Trial Chamber. The Appeals Chamber confirmed, by majority, the verdict declaring Mr Lubanga guilty and the decision sentencing him to 14 years of imprisonment.

The Appeals Chamber rejected Mr Lubanga’s allegations that the proceedings were unfair and found that Mr Lubanga did not substantiate several grounds of appeal he raised. The Appeals Chamber established, with respect to factual errors, that it would not assess the evidence anew, but would intervene only if the Trial Chamber’s assessment of fact was found to be unreasonable. In applying this standard, the Appeals Chamber rejected, among others, the alleged errors in the Trial Chamber’s findings relevant to the age of the child soldiers.

With respect to the alleged legal errors regarding Mr Lubanga’s individual criminal responsibility, the Appeals Chamber confirmed the Trial Chamber’s approach that a co-perpetrator must make an essential contribution and does not need to personally and directly commit the crime.

With respect to the Prosecutor’s and Mr Lubanga’s appeals against the Sentencing Decision, the Appeals Chamber held that a Trial Chamber enjoys broad discretion in determining a sentence. The Appeals Chamber rejected all the grounds of appeal raised by the Prosecutor and Mr Lubanga, finding that the sentence was not disproportionate to the gravity of the crimes and reflected Mr Lubanga’s culpability for the crimes for which he was convicted. Accordingly, the Appeals Chamber confirmed the total sentence of 14 years.

For the Conviction Decision, click here.

For the Sentencing Decision, click here.