22 Mar Why Bemba’s Conviction Was Not a “Very Good Day” for the OTP (Updated)
As readers probably know by now, the ICC convicted Jean-Pierre Bemba yesterday of various war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape as both a war crime and crime against humanity. Commentators are praising the conviction as landmark with regard to sexual violence — against both women and men. Here, for example, is Niamh Hayes:
Today is a very good day for the Office of the Prosecutor. This afternoon, Jean Pierre Bemba Gombo was convicted of rape as a crime against humanity and a war crime, due to his failure as a military commander to prevent or punish such crimes committed by MLC troops under his effective control. This represents the first ever conviction for the crime of rape at the International Criminal Court. Although rape was charged in the cases against Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo, and although the Trial Chamber ultimately concluded that the alleged acts of sexual violence had in fact taken place, Katanga and Ngudjolo’s individual criminal responsibility for those crimes were not proven to the satisfaction of the judges and they were both acquitted on those counts. Bemba is not only the first defendant to be convicted of rape as a war crime or crime against humanity at the ICC, he is also the first person to have been held individually responsible for violations of international criminal law committed during the 2002-2003 coup in the Central African Republic.
It is even more significant to realise that the Bemba judgement represents the first time in the history of international criminal law that sexual violence against men has been charged as the crime of rape (as opposed to crimes of torture, outrages upon personal dignity or cruel treatment) or that a defendant has been convicted of rape based on the testimony of male victims. The Bemba case will go down in history as a vital precedent on that basis alone, but it also represents a hugely important step in the ICC’s broader efforts to provide greater accountability for sexual violence crimes. Prosecutor Bensouda today reiterated her personal and professional commitment to that goal: “[w]here some may want to draw a veil over these crimes I, as Prosecutor, must and will continue to draw a line under them.” The inclusion of further allegations of male rape in the Ntaganda case and extensive allegations of sexual violence against civilians in the Ongwen case are important and welcome developments in that regard.
I agree with Niamh that the decision is a landmark in terms of sexual violence — but I would take strong issue with the idea that Bemba’s conviction represents a “very good day” for the OTP. On the contrary, the Trial Chamber’s judgment illustrates that the OTP continues to have problems developing its cases without the judges’ help. As Niamh notes, Bemba is the first ICC defendant convicted on the basis of superior responsibility. But she fails to point out a critical fact about the trial: the OTP alleged that Bemba was responsible for the various war crimes and crimes against humanity as a superior only because the Pre-Trial Chamber told it to do so. The OTP’s original theory of the case was that Bemba was responsible for those crimes solely as an indirect co-perpetrator. The PTC, however, disagreed: because the evidence the OTP presented at the confirmation hearing indicated that Bemba was most likely responsible for the crimes as a superior, not as an indirect co-perpetrator, the PTC adjourned the hearing and requested (read: instructed) the OTP to amend the charges to include superior responsibility. The OTP did so — but it continued to insist that Bemba was primarily responsible for the charges as an indirect co-perpetrator. Here is the relevant paragraph from its Amended Document Containing the Charges:
57. Primarily, BEMBA is individually criminally responsible pursuant to Article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute, for the crimes against humanity and war crimes referred to in Articles 7 and 8 of the Statute, as described in this Amended DCC, which he committed jointly with Patassé through MLC troops. Alternatively 1 , BEMBA is criminally responsible by virtue of his superior-subordinate relationship with MLC troops pursuant to Article 28 (a), or in the alternative Article 28(b), of the Statute, for crimes against humanity and war crimes, as described in this Amended DCC and enumerated in Counts 1 to 8, which were committed by MLC troops under his effective command, or authority, and control as a result of his failure to exercise control properly over these forces.
The OTP should be grateful to the PTC for its “request,” because the PTC ultimately refused to confirm Bemba’s potential responsibility as an indirect co-perpetrator. Had the PTC not intervened, the case would not even have made it past the confirmation stage.
So, to summarise: The OTP had a theory of the case. The PTC told it to rethink that theory. The OTP did so — reluctantly. The PTC rejected the OTP’s preferred theory. And the TC ultimately convicted Bemba on the theory first proposed by the PTC.
Bemba’s conviction clearly represents a very good day in the struggle against sexual violence. But it hardly represents a very good day for the OTP. On the contrary, it actually represents a rather stunning rebuke to the OTP’s ability to develop its cases without the judges’ help.
NOTE: I have updated the post in light of an email from Alex Whiting pointing out that the PTC refused to confirm indirect co-perpetration. My thanks to him for the correction.