Appeals judges uphold most of former Congo VP’s convictions

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court on Thursday upheld most of the convictions of a former Congolese vice president for interfering with witnesses during his war crimes trial, and ordered the original trial chamber to review his sentence.

The appeals ruling helps to solidify jurisprudence dealing with attempts by suspects to interfere with the course of justice at the court, which was set up to prosecute offenses including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes around the world.

Jean-Pierre Bemba was sentenced last year to a year in prison and fined 300,000 euros ($371,000) for interfering with witnesses in his war crimes and crimes against humanity trial at the court. The sentence came on top of an 18-year prison term he is serving for crimes committed in Central African Republic by a militia he commanded. Bemba also has appealed those convictions.

Convictions also were largely upheld against four members of Bemba’s legal team for their roles in bribing witnesses so that they would give testimony that could help to acquit Bemba.

Sending the cases of Bemba and two of his team back to trial judges to review sentences, the appeals chamber said that the trial chamber wrongly assessed the gravity of the offenses. The suspended sentences of two members of the legal team were sent back to the trial judges because the appeals panel said that the court’s rules do not include the power to impose suspended sentences.

Presiding Judge Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi said the appeals panel acquitted Bemba and two members of his defense team on a charge of presenting false evidence during his trial because the rule under which they were originally convicted applies only to presentation of documents and in their cases it was wrongly applied to witness testimony.

In two other unrelated appeals rulings, judges slightly amended a reparations order in the case of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, an Islamic extremist who was convicted of attacking religious buildings in Timbuktu, Mali, and of Germain Katanga, a Congolese man convicted of murder for his role in a deadly attack on a village in 2003.

Such reparation orders are a key part of the court’s mandate to not only bring to justice perpetrators of atrocities but also to ensure that their victims are compensated.

Judges last year said that victims in Timbuktu were eligible for 2.7 million euros ($3.35 million) in reparations. Under Thursday’s ruling, victims applying for reparations will no longer have to disclose their identities to Al Mahdi and they will be able to ask trial judges to review the decision if their applications are rejected.

In Katanga’s case, appeals judges largely left intact the reparations decision ordering Germaine Katanga to pay $1 million to victims, but told trial judges to look again at reparation applications from five people who were born after the 2003 attack but argued that it caused “transgenerational harm,” meaning that they suffered as a result of the trauma caused to family members in the attack.

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