Two legal representatives of victims participating in the trial of Congolese war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba have today questioned a prosecution witness, but nearly all the proceedings were in closed session.
Last week, judges hearing the case at the International Criminal Court (ICC) granted the two legal representatives – Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson and Assingambi Zarambaud – permission to question ‘Witness 209’. Judges Sylvia Steiner, Kuniko Ozaki and Joyce Aluoch unanimously permitted Ms. Douzima-Lawson to question the witness. However, Judge Ozaki dissented when it came to Mr. Zarambaud mainly because she found some of the questions he suggested putting to the witness to be inappropriate.
‘Witness 209’ started testifying last week, and in the brief moments when he has testified in open court, he has recounted the pillaging which he claimed Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers carried out in the town of Damara in the Central African Republic (CAR). The witness, the 21st called by prosecutors since the opening of the trial last November, is testifying with protective measures such as the use of face and voice distortion.
Under trials at the ICC, victims have been allowed to question defense and prosecution witnesses whose testimonies they feel directly affect their interests. Their legal representatives always attend court, including closed sessions. In Mr. Bemba’s trial, there are six dual status individuals, that is, those who are both victims and witnesses and will be taking the witness stand to give evidence.
When ‘Witness 209’ briefly appeared in open session today, he stated that he heard on local Central African radio as well the Paris-based Radio France International that Mr. Bemba “had control over a large part of territory of Congo.” Asked by Ms. Douzima-Lawson where this territory was, the witness responded that it was in Congo’s Equateur Province, which is separated from CAR by the River Oubangui. The hearing then reverted to closed session.
Prosecutors allege that Mr. Bemba was the military commander of the MLC troops – although he himself was not in the CAR – and that despite being aware that his troops were committing crimes, he neither stopped nor punished them. He has denied the charges.
Tomorrow morning the defense will start cross-examining ‘Witness 209’.