The Congolese defense of Jean-Pierre Bemba, sentenced for war crimes, on Tuesday asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to overturn the trial judgment, accusing the judges of “lack of impartiality”.
Bemba, 55, is appealing an 18-year jail term handed down by the ICC in June 2016 after judges found him guilty on five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in atrocities committed by his troops in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Once the powerful leader of the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) and a wealthy businessman, the court said Bemba had failed to stop a series of rapes and murders by his soldiers in the CAR in 2002 and 2003.
There is a reasonable basis for fear of a lack of impartiality on the part of the Trial Chamber
But Bemba’s lawyer Peter Haynes told a hearing at the Hague-based ICC that trial judges chose to ignore much of the evidence presented by the defence.
“The trial chamber’s approach to evidence was unbalanced. For no articulated reason, the trial chamber ignored important evidence on central issues,” Haynes said.
This included the testimony of a retired senior French military officer, Brigadier-General Jacques Seara, who told judges that Bemba was not in command of his troops when they carried out the crimes.
Seara’s evidence was totally dismissed by the judges “notwithstanding his wealth of experience which entitled him to give evidence,” Haynes said.
But the prosecution’s representative, Helen Brady says the defense “did not show why the decision should be overturned”.
“Bemba had a fair trial” and his arguments in favour of the appeal must be rebutted, she said.
Bemba’s case which opened in November 2010 was the first before the ICC to focus on sexual violence as a weapon of war, and the first to underline a military commander’s responsibility for the conduct of troops under his control.
In an appeal filed before the court, Bemba’s lawyers however said the judges’ “findings on effective control fall far outside established military doctrine and practice”.
Bemba’s trial “invented a theory of command responsibility which is a military impossibility”, his defence team said.
In a separate trial, Bemba was also sentenced in March last year to one year in jail and fined 300,000 euros for bribing witnesses during his main war crimes trial.
Bemba is expected to address the hearing, due to last until Monday.