DR Congo's Bemba appeals ICC war crimes conviction

Jean-Pierre Bemba has spent 10 years behind bars (AFP Photo/Michael Kooren) (POOL/AFP/File)

The Hague (AFP) - Former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba, jailed for 18 years for war crimes, has formally appealed against his conviction by the International Criminal Court (ICC), arguing his trial was "flawed," his lawyers said Wednesday.

Bemba earlier this month "filed an appeal against his conviction", his defence team said in a statement sent to AFP, adding his rights had been violated to the point that "the Bemba trial, in fact, was a mistrial".

The former militia leader was sentenced in June to 18 years in jail after being found guilty at the ICC on five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Once the powerful leader of the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) and a wealthy businessman, the court found that Bemba had failed to stop a series of rapes and murders committed by his troops in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.

Bemba's case 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.

But his lawyers argued in their appeal filed on September 19 that 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 reality, Mr. Bemba is the commander that international law would have him be. He trained his army, he gave them a code of conduct, he actively pursued rumours of crimes, he punished those identified to him."

His appeal comes just weeks before Bemba, 53, and four aides are due in court for a verdict on a related bribery and contempt of court case.

Prosecutors in the separate case allege that Bemba, two of his legal advisors and two acquaintances colluded to try to bribe witnesses in his main trial to withhold information. The verdict will be delivered on October 19.

His defence team also alleged in their appeal that the court had failed to prove Bemba knew "his conduct was part of a widespread attack on a civilian population".

"No such finding was made in this case. This failure invalidates Mr. Bemba’s convictions for the crimes against humanity of rape and murder and, thus, materially affects the judgement," the defence argued.