By: Andrew Kramer
Impunity Watch Staff Writer
THE HAGUE, The Netherlands – On April 8, 2020, the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) released the public redacted appellate brief of former Congolese militia leader and convicted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda. The brief was originally filed on February 10, 2020 but was unavailable to the public. Ntaganda is currently appealing only his 30-year sentence of imprisonment.
Ntaganda raised twelve grounds on appeal, generally asserting that the Trial Chamber failed to assess mitigating factors properly when determining his sentence. Grounds one through four claim the Trial Chamber failed to properly assess Ntaganda’s “limited” degree of participation in various crimes committed, including rape and sexual slavery. Grounds seven through twelve claim the Trial Chamber failed to properly assess mitigating conduct of Ntaganda, both during the commission of the crimes and in the courtroom. These grounds assert the Court did not properly consider that Ntaganda saved the lives of enemy soldiers, protected civilians from attacks on occasions, protected an individual from harm, contributed to reconciliation with the Lendu community, and cooperated with the Court.
The remaining grounds assert the Court erred in assessing aggravating factors. Ground five asserts the Court considered an improper aggravating circumstance in determining its sentence, which it claims fell outside the scope of the crimes charged. Ground six asserts the Court “double-counted” certain aggravating factors to arrive at its sentence.
This is a robust brief submitted on behalf of Ntaganda. While he may find little sympathy from the Appeals Chamber for his “limited role and knowledge” in crimes of sexual violence and slavery, a merit which the Court may more thoroughly address is the question of what constitutes a proper aggravating factor. The degree of relation of the factor to the crime, relations to an uncharged crime, and how to apply the factor in a sentencing decision are all areas which the Court might provide clarity.
There is not much precedent for the appellate process of the ICC. Only two other cases have reached decision by the Appeals Chamber, both of which confirmed the Trial Chamber’s findings. In the only appellate decision, which upheld a sentence of imprisonment, the case of The Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the Appeals Chamber declined to reduce a prison sentence, partially because the appellant had already served most of it. If the present case reaches a decision on the merits, it could solidify sentencing procedure, and depending on the outcome, empower or restrain the Trial Chambers in their sentencing decisions.
Once the Prosecutor responds to the Appellant’s brief, a hearing date will be set. The COVID-19 outbreak will likely slow progress of this appeal process, as all ICC staff members based in The Hague will be working remotely until at least April 28.
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