Bemba at the ICC: How much is 18 years?

23 June 2016 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

The 18-year sentence the International Criminal Court handed down on Tuesday against former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba [IJT-191, blog] for murders, rapes and pillaging committed by his troops while they were fighting in neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003 has received a mixed reception. Some experts like Mark Ellis of the International Bar Association told Deutsche Welle he would have “preferred a significantly longer sentence” given the severity of the crimes Bemba was convicted of. Human rights groups focused on the fact that this was the longest sentence handed down by the ICC so far and Bemba's defence pointed it out that it was significantly higher than other convictions under command responsibility by international tribunals.

Just how much is eighteen years compared to other similar cases in different courts? Justice Tribune spoke to criminologist Barbora Hola of the Amsterdam Vrije Universiteit faculty of law who studies sentencing of international crimes and has done empirical, quantitative studies of sentences at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and it's sister court for Rwanda, the ICTR.

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo in the ICC courtroom during the delivery of his sentence on 21 June 2016 (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)
Image caption: 
Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo in the ICC courtroom during the delivery of his sentence on 21 June 2016 (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)

“The sentence compared to the sentencing at the ICTY and the ICTR is relatively harsh. At those courts when superiors are convicted solely on the basis of command responsibility their sentences tend to be lower compared to those for hands-on perpetrators, ” Hola told IJT.

She added she was struck by the way the chamber emphasised the sexual violence and the gravity of the crimes in their sentencing decision.

“The majority of the judgement talks about the impact on victims, citing victims statements and putting a lot weight on the sexual violence. (The chamber) is very much trying to show how deplorable and extremely cruel the crimes were,” she said. ICC prosecutors have made prosecuting sexual and gender based violence a spearpoint of their strategy and Bemba marked the first conviction for sexual crimes at the court.

The severity of the sentence compared to cases at other tribunals play into the hands of Bemba's defence which has already filed an appeal against his conviction. His counsel told IJT Tuesday they believe the sentence is based on the same “legal, procedural and factual errors we say underpinned the conviction”.

Want to read more?

If you subscribe to a free membership, you can read this article and explore our full archive, dating back to 1997.

Subscribe now

Related articles

article
19 February 2007 by Laetitia Grotti

One year ago on January 6, 2006, the 17 members of Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER) were closing up shop after submitting their final report to King Mohammed VI. The Moroccan truth commission had received a flood of compliments from the international community praising the recommendations in its report, especially those advocating legislative and constitutional reforms. One year later, however, the results have been rather mixed.

article
11 September 2006 by our correspondent in Arusha

After having tried high-ranking officers, ministers, businessmen, priests, journalists, local officials and militiamen, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is in uncharted waters. On September 11, the most famous rwandese troubadour of his generation will stand trial for genocide. 

article
23 October 2006 by Christine Chaumeau

China is keeping a polite distance from international criminal justice. Beijing is hardly disinterested, but China does want to make sure that these new global mechanisms are not going to infringe upon its sovereignty by delving into particularly sensitive cases such as Tibet. 

article
United Nations Operation in Burundi disarms rebel forces in Mbanda in February 2005 (Photo: Flickr/UN Photo/Martine Perret)
03 June 2015 by Janet H. Anderson, The Hague (The Netherlands)

Over the last month, Burundi has hit the headlines as the president put himself forward to be elected for a controversial third term, resulting in street protests, thousands of refugees who fled instability and an attempted coup. Behind the issues of elections and constitutionalism are also those of justice following Burundi’s long-running civil war. The international community supported an intensive process of negotiation and the signing of the Arusha Accord in 2000. But in the decade and a half since, its provisions on justice have been debated though never fully implemented.

article
06 November 2006 by Pierre Hazan

France's attitude towards international criminal justice is marked by ambiguity. Paris subscribes to a vision of the world in which international humanitarian law is considered a way to curb violence against civilian populations, but at the same time it is wary of an unchecked judicial system that could end up prosecuting French soldiers engaged in areas where it has old and deep-rooted interests.