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Victims’ Lawyer Denied Permission to Question Witness

International Criminal Court (ICC) trial judges have today declined an application by a legal representativeof victims participating in the war crimes trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba to question an upcoming witness.

Delivering the oral ruling, Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner stated that Assingambi Zarambaud had not provided sufficient justification as to why he wanted to question ‘Witness 6.’ According to the Judge, victims’ lawyers have to show that the testimony of a particular witness would be of a personal interest to victims they represent before they are allowed to question that witness.

Judge Steiner said that in Mr. Zarambaud’s filing to question ‘Witness 6,’ he had given one justification as to why the personal interest of the victims that he represented were affected. This justification was that the testimony of ‘Witness 6’ was crucial to the interests of the victims he represented. The judges found that such a justification was insufficient as it did not give any indication as to why the declaration of ‘Witness 6’ would affect the personal interests of the victims represented by Mr. Zarambaud.

The judges allowed Mr. Zarambaud “on an exceptional basis” to submit a new application with detailed reasons as to how the personal interests of the victims he represents would be affected by the testimony of ‘Witness 6.’

Earlier today, the 16th prosecution witness in Mr. Bemba’s trial completed giving testimony.  However, all of it was provided in closed session. The witness, who started testifying yesterday, goes by the pseudonym ‘Witness 75.’

Five months into the trial of Mr. Bemba, the prosecution has called two expert witnesses, one overview witness, and 12 victims or witnesses to the alleged war crimes. It is unknown what the substance of the testimony by ‘Witness 75’ was.

In their opening statement at start of the trial last November, ICC prosecutors charged that Mr. Bemba, during the armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) between October 2002 and March 2003, deployed his private militia – the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) – in support of then president Ange-Félix Patassé who faced a coup attempt by rebels led by his former army chief Francois Bozizé.

It is during this five months’ intervention, that MLC fighters allegedly committed “repeated, widespread and brutal rapes, murders and pillaging of civilians.” Prosecutors charge that as commander-in-chief of the MLC, Mr. Bemba had the power to prevent and repress the commission of these crimes by his troops, but he did not do so.

The trial resumes on Monday, April 4, 2011, to hear the testimony of ‘Witness 6.’