ICC: Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Defence Appeals his Conviction

160621-bemba-sentence-10-1The Defence for Mr. Jean-Pierre Bemba filed an appeal against his conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity in front of the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Defence criticized many of the findings of the Trial Chamber and claimed that the Bemba trial was in fact a mistrial.

The Defence highlighted a vast number of gaps in Mr. Bemba’s right to a fair trial, claiming for instance that the Prosecution was permitted to intercept and listen to telephone conversations between the accused and his lawyers, between the lawyers themselves, and between the lawyers and Defence witnesses.

The Defence also mentioned the vast amount of ex parte access to the Trial Chamber enjoyed by the Prosecution to discuss matters directly relevant to the Judgment itself.

The majority of the appeal, however, is dedicated to the flaws of the Trial Chamber’s findings on effective control, which, according to the Defence, ‘’fall far outside established military doctrine and practice’’ […] and ‘’deprive the Judgement of precedential value in shaping the future actions of commanders.’’

For the Defence, the Trial Chamber, having disregarded the evidence of both the Prosecution and Defence military experts, ‘’invented a theory of command responsibility which is a military impossibility’’ […] and ‘’conflated basic military principles, misunderstood and misapplied established legal doctrine and, most alarmingly, made key factual findings on the basis of no evidence.’’

The Defence adds that other fatal flaws undermine the conviction. The Defence referred to the fact that nearly two thirds of the underlying acts for which Mr. Bemba was convicted were not included or improperly included in the Amended Document Containing the Charges and fall outside the scope of the charges.

The Defence also pointed out that, to convict a person of a crime against humanity, a Trial Chamber must find that he knew that his conduct was part of a widespread attack on a civilian population. However, no such finding was made in this case against Mr. Bemba.

The Prosecution has two months within which to file a response.

In order to read a summary of the Defence Appeal, click here.

The Trial for the ICC’s First Contempt Case Closes

by Rita Yip

Jean-Pierre Bemba GomboOn Tuesday 31 May 2016, the closing statements in the first contempt case tried before the International Criminal Court (ICC), The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Aimé Kilolo Musamba, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, Fidèle Babala Wandu and Narcisse Arido, will be made publicly and are expected to last three days.

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo – the former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo – and four other accused are charged for offences against the administration of justice under Article 70 of the Rome Statute. The Prosecution alleges that the accused collectively engaged in a scheme to corruptly influence, illicitly coach and bribe fourteen defence witnesses for false testimony during the trial of The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo between 2011 -2013.

The five accused were arrested in November 2013 and were detained at the United Nations Detention Unit in The Hague for almost one year. On 21 October 2014, the Pre-Trial Chamber granted interim release to the four accused – except Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, who remained in custody since 2008.

The trial hearings before the Trial Chamber VII commenced on 29 September 2015. The Prosecution called 13 witnesses and the five Defence teams collectively called six witnesses, including experts in the field of audio recordings, Austrian law and African solidarity.

The closing statements are expected to last three days. The Prosecution and the Defence teams will present its arguments and respond to the others parties’ arguments articulated in their closing submissions filed on 24 May 2016. Two of the accused – Aimé Kilolo Musamba, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo’s former Defence Lead counsel and Fidèle Babala Wanda, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo’s political associate, have been granted the request to give an unsworn statement during the closing statements.

Earlier this year, on 21 March 2016, Jean-Pierre Bemba was found guilty of two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape and pillaging) for crimes that were committed in Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.

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.

ICC Releases Suspects to Avoid Unreasonably Lengthy Pre-Trial Detention

by Léa Kulinowski

Aimé Kilolo, Jean-Jacques Mangenda and Jean-Pierre Bemba

Aimé Kilolo, Jean-Jacques Mangenda and Jean-Pierre Bemba

On 21 October 2014, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court ordered the immediate release of four out of the five suspects in the case of Prosecutor v. Bemba, Kilolo, Mangenda, Babala and Arido. Mr. Bemba, who has been held in detention since July 2008 as a result of charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, remains detained.

The suspects are charged with offences against the administration of justice under Article 70 of the Statute – the first of its kind before the ICC – including giving false testimony, knowingly presenting false/forged evidence and corruptly influencing witnesses. The penalty for these offences goes from a fine to a maximum of five years of imprisonment.

When granting the interim release, the Single Judge emphasised the protection against unreasonable detention as per Article 60 (4) of the Statute and noted the advanced stage of the proceedings as well as the various delays, holding that “the reasonableness of the duration of the detention has to be balanced inter alia against the statutory penalties applicable to the offences at stake in these proceedings and that, accordingly, the further extension of the period of the pre-trial detention would result in making its duration disproportionate”. Even though the duration of the suspects’ detention was not due to the Prosecutor’s inexcusable delay, the Single Judge found that the Pre-Trial Chamber was under an independent obligation to ensure that that a person is not unreasonably detained prior to trial under Article 60 (4) of the Statute. Continue reading

Continued Detention in the Bemba Obstruction Case: Justified?

by Alex Whiting

Aimé Kilolo, Jean-Jacques Mangenda and Jean-Pierre Bemba

Aimé Kilolo, Jean-Jacques Mangenda and Jean-Pierre Bemba

The decision of an ICC

Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) to continue the detention of two of the five suspects in the Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo (Bemba) Article 70 case has generated some overheated and unwarranted criticism. Bemba’s lead defense attorney, Aimé Kilolo Musamba (Kilolo), and case manager, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo (Mangenda), were arrested along with Bemba and two others and charged with paying and coaching witnesses to lie in the ongoing case at the ICC against Bemba, referred to as the “Main Case.” In the words of the PTC, the evidence shows a reasonable basis to believe that the suspects engaged in “a criminal scheme … [to] afford[] benefits and advantages to certain Defense witnesses in exchange for false testimony and the presentation of false or forged evidence in the [Main] Case [against Bemba at the ICC], in violation of article 70(1)(b) and (c) of the Statute.” The PTC denied Kilolo and Mangenda’s separate motions for release, finding that the evidence demonstrates that both pose a risk of flight and of obstructing or endangering ongoing investigations.

In a post at Opinio Juris entitled, “PTC II to Defence Attorneys: You are All Criminals,” Kevin Jon Heller accuses PTC II of showing “contempt” for the role of the defense in its decision, in particular in its consideration of Kilolo’s connections to Bemba and his network of associates and Mangenda’s knowledge of protected witnesses in the Main Case. While people may of course disagree on the ultimate question of detention in this case (though I think the detention decision is wholly justified), the PTC’s consideration of these factors was entirely proper. Despite Heller’s provocative title, in fact the PTC did not say anything at all to “Defence Attorneys” as a group, let alone accuse them of being “All Criminals.” Continue reading

No Release for Detained Counsel

Aimé Kilolo, Jean-Jacques Mangenda and Jean-Pierre Bemba

Aimé Kilolo, Jean-Jacques Mangenda and Jean-Pierre Bemba on trial at the IC

On 14 March 2014 and 17 March 2014, respectively, the requests for interim release of Me Aimé Kilolo Musamba, former lead counsel for Mr Bemba, and Mr Jean Jacques Mangenda, former case manager for Mr Bemba, were denied.

Under article 60(2) of the Statute, upon an application for interim release, the Chamber has to determine whether “the conditions set forth in article 58 paragraph 1 are met”. In the negative, the person shall be released “with or without conditions”.

It is worth noting that in the contempt case in relation to which Messrs Kilolo and Mangenda were detained, the Prosecution did not decide to make use of the alternative enshrined in the Statute at Article 58 (7), namely to request the Pre Trial Chamber to issue a summons for the person to appear. The accused did not therefore have the opportunity to demonstrate their willingness to appear voluntarily before the Court.

In its decisions, a Single Judge denied the requests for interim release on the basis that, in his view, there are reasonable grounds to believe that the accused have committed the crimes they are accused of, and, among other reasons, that there are concrete flight risks. Continue reading