Just days before the opening of his trial, appeals judges have today directed trial judges to conduct a fresh review of whether Mr. Bemba should remain in detention at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Delivering a ruling on an appeal by Mr. Bemba’s attorneys, presiding judge Akua Kuenyehia stated that until that review, Mr. Bemba would remain in detention. The review would be as to “whether Mr. Bemba should remain in detention or should be released, with or without condition.”
Last July, Mr. Bemba filed an appeal after trial judges rejected his application for conditional release during weekends. Judges at the court conduct periodic reviews of whether individuals in ICC detention should be released or not. Mr. Bemba has applied to be granted short-term release during weekends. He suggested that he would be returning to the ICC detention center in The Hague during week days.
In the judgment delivered today, Judge Kuenyehia stated that in carrying out reviews, judges have to asses whether there has been a change in the circumstances supporting the ruling on detention. However, the appeals chamber found that the review carried out by trial judges was insufficient because it restricted itself to only assessing the alleged new circumstances which Mr. Bemba had presented.
Nonetheless, the trial of the former Congolese vice president starts on Monday next week, with the first day dedicated to opening statements from the prosecution, the defense, and legal representatives of victims participating in the trial.
Mr. Bemba, 48, will be the most prominent person on trial by the court based in The Hague. He led the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) military group before becoming vice president, and later the leader of the opposition in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
He faces two crimes against humanity and three war crimes resulting from his alleged failure to stop or to punish his troops as they committed crimes against the civilian population in the Central African Republic (CAR). Prosecutors say these crimes, which included rape, murder and pillaging, were committed between October 26, 2002 and March 15, 2003. The MLC troops were in CAR to help the country’s then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, to stave off a coup attempt.
Transferred to the ICC detention centre in The Hague in July 2008 following his arrest in Belgium, Mr. Bemba’s trial will be heard by judges Sylvia Steiner (presiding), Joyce Aluoch and Kuniko Ozaki.
After the delivery of opening statements on Monday, the prosecution will present its first witness on Tuesday. The identity of this witness has not been revealed but he has been referred to an overview witness, as he will give evidence on the general context of events and the crimes Mr. Bemba is accused of.
The second witness scheduled to testify will be Dr. Adeyinka M. Akinsulure-Smith, an expert witness on gender crime and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Three other expert witnesses have been lined up by the prosecution. They are experts on the use of sexual violence as a tool of war, military affairs, and linguistics.