A defense appeal to suspend reparations proceedings in the case of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the Congolese opposition leader who is serving an 18-year prison sentence, has been rejected by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges. The judges disagreed with the defense lawyers' claim that it was premature to continue with the reparations process when the Appeals Chamber was considering Bemba's appeal for acquittal.
In the May 5 ruling, trial chamber judges determined that the court's founding law and rules of procedure allowed reparations proceedings to take place in parallel to a pending appeal. Bemba is appealing both his March 2016 conviction and the sentence handed down last June.
The prosecution and victims' lawyers had asked judges to throw out the defense's request, arguing that, according to the prior practice of the court, the pending appeal had no impact on the reparations proceedings. Moreover, the prosecution stated that the reparations proceedings were not prejudicial to Bemba's rights, yet a suspension would negatively impact on the expeditiousness of the proceedings and victims' timely access to reparations.
In their ruling, judges concurred with the prosecution that the issuance of a reparations order was not prejudicial to the rights of the convicted person irrespective of whether there was an appeal against the conviction decision. The judges noted nonetheless that a reparations order could only be implemented once the conviction decision became executable, namely after being confirmed on appeal.
The judges also determined that a suspension of the reparations proceedings, including the appointment of experts in preparation for the issue of a reparations order, would negatively impact on the expeditiousness of the reparations proceedings as it would create a substantial delay.
Last July, judges made an order requesting submissions relevant to reparations and also directed the court's Registry to provide a list of experts to assist the chamber in the reparations proceedings. Last month, the defense requested judges to refrain from instructing expert witnesses and to suspend the reparations process. The defense argued that the reparations process was inconsistent with the rights of the accused as it "operates as an effective presumption of guilt" and "places a burden on his miniscule resources at a time when he is fighting appeals against conviction and sentence."
However, judges ruled that they did not see how conducting the reparations proceedings presumed Bemba to be guilty because he had already been convicted and sentenced at this point. The chamber further noted that the defense had failed to demonstrate how the preparation of the reparations proceedings would impact its resources because it had already filed Bemba's appeals against the conviction and the sentence.
In terming the appointment of experts premature, defense lawyer Peter Haynes said the expert's work would be in vain if Bemba were to be acquitted on appeal or in case appeals judges modified the extent of his conviction, such as by determining that Bemba had no knowledge of the commission of murder or that his soldiers committed no offenses in a particular location.