While the trial of Thomas Lubanga stalls at the International Criminal Court (ICC), two of its judges have been appointed to conduct the upcoming proceedings against former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba.
Judge Adrian Fulford, who presides over the Lubanga trial, will perform the same function during the Bemba proceedings. He will be joined by Judge Elizabeth Odio-Benito, who was known during the Lubanga trial for asking witnesses about the experiences of young girl soldiers in the defendant’s militia, the Union of Congolese Patriots, UPC.
Judges Fulford and Odio-Benito will hear the case against Bemba along with a third judge, Joyce Aluoch. The trial is set to begin on April 27.
Bemba is the former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and leader of the rebel group Movement for Liberation of the Congo (MLC).
According to ICC prosecutors, the MLC was allied with government troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) during that country’s civil war in 2002 and 2003. Bemba is charged with responsibility for the rape, murder and pillaging allegedly committed by MLC soldiers in CAR during that time period.
It is unclear whether Lubanga’s trial will be completed by the time the proceedings against Bemba begin.
Both the prosecution and defense have appealed against a July 14 decision which stated that charges of sexual slavery and cruel and inhumane treatment have the possibility of being added to Lubanga’s indictment. He is currently charged with enlisting, conscripting and using child soldiers to fight in his militia during 2002 and 2003.
In early October, judges put the trial on hold pending the outcome of the appeal.
Continuing with the trial when the charges could change poses “too great a risk that the defense will proceed … on a significantly false basis,” the judges wrote.
The appeals judges are currently deliberating, but there is little indication of when they will make a decision on the matter.