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DRC’s Bemba to appeal conviction, call for mistrial

The Hague, Netherlands | AFP |

On the eve of his landmark sentencing, lawyers for former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba Monday gave notice that they will appeal his war crimes conviction and press for a mistrial.

Just hours before the once feared militia leader was due back in the dock at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday to learn his sentence, his defence team alleged a slew of mistakes and failings by the trial judges in a written filing.

“The appellant hereby files a list of the legal, factual and procedural errors which he intends to challenge on appeal,” Bemba’s top defence lawyer Peter Haynes wrote to the tribunal in The Hague.

Bemba at the ICC earlier. FILE PHOTO ICC
Bemba at the ICC earlier. FILE PHOTO ICC

Bemba, 53, was found guilty in March on five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by his private army called the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC), after he sent them into the neighbouring Central African Republic from October 2002 to March 2003 to put down a coup.

The prosecution has called for a minimum 25-year jail term.

On Tuesday, Bemba will become the highest level official to be handed down a sentence at the ICC, and only the third ever since it began work in 2002 to prosecute the world’s worst crimes.

In their March 21 ruling after a lengthy trial which opened in November 2010, the three trial judges found that Bemba was responsible as the military commander of the MLC for a reign of terror by some 1,500 of his troops, including wide-scale rapes and murders, as they sought to quash a coup against then CAR president Ange-Felix Patasse.

They said that he could at any point have ended the MLC’s five-month rampage, but instead did nothing.

But the defence argued Monday “that no reasonable trial chamber could have convicted him of the charges he faced.”

The trial judges erred because they had “misinterpreted and/or misapplied the law and took an unjustifiable approach to the evidence.”

In his filing, Haynes maintained the court had “failed to safeguard the fairness of the trial” because it knew that some of the “defence witnesses were imposters.”

And then he challenged the guilty verdict saying Bemba was “convicted of a case in which in material respects he was ignorant” arguing the former leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo was “not liable as a superior for the actions of the MLC” in CAR.

“The case as ultimately framed by the trial chamber does not comport with any recognisable legal standard of command responsibility, or military practice,” the defence wrote.

Bemba had been convicted “on the basis of speculation” in a case which was internally inconsistent, factually implausible, and based on a selective -– and often flawed –- assessment of evidence.”

Haynes further argued that the court had “erred in finding that the MLC committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

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