Lawyers for former Democratic Republic of Congo vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba, have announced their intention to appeal after he was handed down an 18 years sentence on Tuesday.
Bemba was sentenced on three counts of war crimes (murder, rape and pillaging) committed in the Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003.
“Mr Bemba intends to demonstrate on appeal that he was not the commander of the troops of the Mouvement de libération du Congo (Movement for the Liberation of Congo) who went into the Central African Republic in 2002, so today’s sentence is by no means the end of the road for Mr Bemba. It merely signals that we are moving now to the next phase of the process, which is the appeal,“Bemba’s lawyer, Kate Gibson said.
"Mr Bemba intends to demonstrate on appeal that he was not the commander of the troops of the Mouvement de libération du Congo, who went into the Central African Republic in 2002, so today’s sentence is by no means the end of the road for Mr Bemba.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda would have wanted a longer sentence for Bemba and has promised to look at the sentence more critically.
“We requested for 25 years, and of course the defence requested for much less than that, but the judges have now sentenced him for 18 years. So me and my team are studying this very closely, whether the sentencing, we feel is appropriate, for these very serious heinous crimes that have been committed against the people of the Central African Republic,” ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda said.
The prosecution too has a chance to appeal the sentence on grounds of disproportion between the crimes and sentence.
The entire time spent by Bemba in detention will be deducted from the sentence.
While Bemba’s supporters find the verdict a bitter pill to swallow and accuse the court of using the case to stop Bemba from challenging president Kabila ,victims and human rights activists have welcomed the verdict.
Arrested by Belgian authorities in May 2008, after an arrest warrant , the former DRC vice president surrendered to the ICC on June 3, 2008.
Charges against him were confirmed in June 2009 before the trial resumed on November 22, 2010.