The former rebel leader and Vice-President of DR Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was recently acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) last year, has sued the ICC for almost $75m in damages, following his 10–year detention by the court. The latest move by Bemba has significantly put the ICC in an uncomfortable spotlight as well as questioned the true meaning of justice.
According to the lawyers of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the International Criminal Court must compensate their client for what they called his “unlawful detention,” legal fees as well as losses incurred by Mr. Bemba, due to the alleged mismanagement of his assets, which were confiscated by the court. The lawyers claimed that Jean-Pierre Bemba’s assets were completely neglected and simply “allowed to rot” during his 10-year detention by the ICC.
The said assets included three villas in Portugal, seven airplanes, two boats and three parcels of land in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Prior to his arrest, Jean-Pierre Bemba, the opposition politician in the DRC, was a successful businessman. Following his arrest and detention by the ICC, Mr. Bemba was prohibited from contesting in the December presidential election because he was convicted of witness tampering by the ICC. That conviction is considered in the DRC as a form of corruption under the country’s electoral law. Some have argued that Mr. Bemba would have won the Presidential election if he had contested. His lawyers retaliated that part of the awarded damages would be used towards paying reparation for war victims in the DRC.
While the $75m in damages Mr. Bemba is demanding from the International Criminal Court (ICC) is significantly high and indeed almost half of the court’s $168m annual budget, some legal juggernauts are carefully following the Bemba-ICC legal battle with much interest. Unlike in the democratic world, where defendants are often awarded compensations for unlawful detention, previous attempts by other ICC defendants to seek financial compensations from the court for alleged unlawful detention had not been successful. That has led some legal pundits to question whether the ICC is above the law, it is set out to preserve. However, having the long duration of Mr. Bemba’s detention in mind, some legal experts are of the view that the court might be forced to award some damages to the defendant, albeit a much lesser amount than he requested for. Yet others, believe that such an award could drastically affect the budget of the ICC, which is presently working under a minimal financial budget.
Regardless the outcome of Jean-Pierre Bemba’s legal battle against the ICC, the one thing is sure: the ICC is a legal entity, which fights against the abuse of power, as such, it must abide by the rules of the International law it protects as well. That protection includes equality of all before the law. It is on this ground that Jean-Pierre Bemba and his legal team strongly believe both Mr. Bemba and the ICC must be treated equally before the court of law in accordance with the international law.
Definitely, the verdict of the ICC judges will have huge implications and set clear precedence in the future relationship between the ICC and its suspects, as it fights for the justice. Hopefully, the meaning of justice will soon be defined by the verdict of the court. The world is closely watching.