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Bemba Defense Cross-Examines Witness in Closed Session

Jean-Pierre Bemba’s defense today started cross-examining the 20th witness called by prosecutors in his war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), but the questioning was conducted in closed session.

The witness, who is testifying under the pseudonym ‘Witness 63,’ has been giving evidence for more than a week and a half, almost exclusively in closed session. He is testifying with face and voice distortion in order to keep his identity unknown to the public.

At the start of today’s session, Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson, a legal representative of victims participating in the trial, briefly questioned the witness in closed session before defense lawyer Peter Haynes started his cross-examination. 

Mr. Haynes questioned the witness about the strength and organizational structure of the Central African army during 2002 and 2003 – to which the witness replied that he was not a military authority to know this. The defense lawyer then informed judges that the rest of the day’s questioning would probably need to be done privately. The hearing was held in closed session for the remainder of the day.

Last week, ‘Witness 63’ stated that Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers increased brutalities against Central African civilians following a visit to the country’s capital Bangui by Mr. Bemba, who was the group’s leader. He did not say in open court whether there was a link between the visit and the rise in hostilities. The witness further recounted that how MLC fighters raped, looted, and murdered civilians with impunity in the towns of PK 12, PK 45, and Damara. 

The witness also stated last week that at one time he lived among the MLC troops while they were in the CAR, but he did not state in public under what circumstances he came to live with them.

Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is on trial at the ICC for failing to control his private militia members who allegedly brutalized civilians in the neighboring Central African Republic during 2002 and 2003. He has pleaded not guilty to the five charges he faces. 

The trial is scheduled to continue tomorrow morning.