World war crimes court set for bumper appeals rulings


The Hague (AFP)

In an unusual move, international war crimes judges will Thursday rule Thursday on three appeals cases, including one brought by Congolese warlord Germain Katanga, ordered to pay his victims $1 million in damages.

Legal proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC) are usually lengthy, slow and unwieldy, so it is unheard of to have three judgements handed down in one day.

The court, based in The Hague, opened its doors in 2002 to try the world's worst crimes in places where governments cannot or will not act.

The other appeals have been brought by former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, as well as the victims of Malian jihadist Ahmad Al-Faqi Al-Mahdi.

- Germain Katanga -

Katanga, 39, a former military commander from the restive northeastern Congolese Ituri province, is protesting an order to pay $1 million in damages to his victims.

In the first-ever such reparations, the ICC in March 2017 awarded a symbolic $250 each to almost 300 people caught up in a vicious 2003 attack by Katanga's militia on their village.

It also awarded collective compensation for projects to help victims with housing, education and "income-generating activities" as well as counselling.

Katanga is now behind bars in the Democratic Republic of Congo completing a 12-year sentence handed down by the ICC in 2014 on five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for the attack.

He was convicted of supplying weapons to his militia, which went on the rampage in Bogoro, a village in Ituri, shooting and hacking to death with machetes some 200 people.

The ICC's judges found that the total damage caused by the attack was some $3.7 million. But they also ruled that Katanga, despite being penniless, was "personally liable" for a million dollars in damages.

Katanga's lawyers appealed the award, saying it did not fairly reflect their client's role in the crimes and that the interpretation of what constituted a "parent" was too broad when it came to the damages awarded to a child orphan.

Compensation for the loss of a relative should be limited to "close relatives" only, the lawyers argued, asking for Katanga's liability to be reduced.

- Jean-Pierre Bemba -

In a separate appeal, former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba and four accomplices are protesting convictions for bribing witnesses in Bemba's main war crimes trial.

Bemba was sentenced to one year in prison to run consecutive to an 18-year sentence imposed in June 2016 for war crimes carried out by his marauding private army in the Central African Republic in 2002 to 2003.

Bemba's four accomplices -- lawyer Aime Kilolo, his legal case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda, Narcisse Arido, a defence witness, and Congolese lawmaker Fidele Babala -- were sentenced to between six months and two-and-half years in jail. All have also appealed the March 2017 corruption judgement.

Bemba, 55, was found guilty by judges of masterminding a network to bribe and manipulate at least 14 defence witnesses, persuading them to lie for him as he fought five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The judges ruled he had "planned, authorised, and approved the illicit coaching" of witnesses in his main trial.

Also appealing Bemba's sentence is the prosecution which had asked for an eight-year jail term against him in the case -- the first for bribery and corruption to be successfully prosecuted at the ICC.

Bemba, once a wealthy businessman, is also separately appealing his war crimes conviction and 18-year jail term, but no date for the appeals judgement has been set yet.

- Ahmad Al-Faqi Al-Mahdi -

Malian jihadist Mahdi, in his 40s, was sentenced in September 2016 to nine years for destroying the fabled shrines at Timbuktu. He was the first defendant to plead guilty at the ICC after he was captured in Niger in 2015, and turned over to the court.

The ICC judges found in August that he was liable for 2.7 million euros in personal damages for the destruction of the site, committed as jihadists swept across northern Mali in 2012.

But the victims' lawyers say the wording of the reparations order risks denying some people compensation, and are asking for a slight amendment.

Reparations are the final stages of cases before the ICC, and so far only three such compensation awards have been made.