International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Bemba Trial Resumes Tomorrow

Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial is now scheduled to resume tomorrow, after the hearing earlier scheduled for today was cancelled for unknown reasons. While adjourning the trial last Wednesday, Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner indicated that the next scheduled witness was not available to begin testimony.

The trial, which commenced at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in November 2010, has since last August heard from 10 defense witnesses. Mr. Bemba’s lawyers have told judges that they expected to call 64 people with “tangible knowledge” of the five month period during which the accused’s soldiers were deployed in the Central African Republic (CAR).

However, the unavailability of witnesses has slowed the progress of the defense case. For instance, hearings were suspended for three weeks at the end of September as the witnesses scheduled to testify became unavailable. One of them, ‘Witness D04-07,’ who had already testified for three days, disappeared from the court’s accommodation and was never seen again. A second witness, ‘Witness D04-11,’ who was scheduled to testify next, did not board the plane to The Hague and became untraceable.

This prompted judges to order a change to the order of appearance of defense witnesses, with the Europe-based witnesses appearing first. Five of them have testified since October 15. Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has denied five charges arising from his alleged failure to discipline his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) fighters, who prosecutors claim committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during 2002 and 2003 in the CAR.

The trial is scheduled to resume tomorrow, November 6, 2012.

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