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New Witness Testifies in Closed Session

A new prosecution witness in the trial of war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba took the stand this afternoon. However, nearly all his evidence was heard in closed session.

In an oral decision yesterday, Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner granted ‘Witness 63’ protective measures, including the use of a pseudonym, image and voice distortion, as well as “limited private session where the witness gives information that tends to disclose his identification.” Judges deemed these measures necessary in order to enable the witness to continue living in his community without being harassed.

Additionally, following a recommendation by the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) regarding the witness’s level of literacy, the witness was granted in-court assistance from a VWU official.

In the very brief testimony he gave in open court, the witness said he saw Congolese soldiers in his neighborhood but could not recall the date when he saw them for the first time. He also said in response to questioning by prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson that he could not distinguish between the weapons that Mr. Bemba’s soldiers were firing.

The appearance of ‘Witness 63,’ the 20th witness to be heard since the beginning of the trial last November, marks a halfway point in the number of witnesses the prosecution said it planned to call.

Mr. Bemba, the fourth Congolese national to be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC), stands accused of failing to stop or to punish his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers who allegedly carried out mass rapes, killings, and looting in the Central African Republic during 2002 and 2003 conflict. He sent his Congolese troops to the neighboring country to help its then president Ange-Félix Patassé stave to off a coup attempt. Mr. Bemba has denied all charges against him.

Meanwhile, earlier today, Pamphile Oradimo, the Senior Investigating Judge in the Central African capital Bangui, completed giving his evidence. Mr. Oradimo led the Central African Republic’s judicial investigations into the culpability of individuals for the different crimes committed during the conflict. In his testimony, he stated that he ordered the dismissal of charges his country’s prosecutor sought to bring against Mr. Bemba. This was because Mr. Bemba had become the vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the investigation by the judge had not found sufficient evidence implicating him.

‘Witness 63’ continues to testify tomorrow morning.