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Bemba Trial on Recess Until Mid-August

Hearings in Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) will resume next month to hear the evidence of the remaining 15 scheduled witnesses before the prosecution closes its case.

This week, the 25th witness called by prosecutors completed giving his evidence – all of which was in closed session. Going by the court-given name of ‘witness 169,’ this witness, who started giving testimony on July 1, was termed “important” by prosecutors.  The prosecution also said he would provide evidence that no other witness had presented to the court.

Also this week, the court began its break for the summer judicial recess, which will run from July 15 to August 8. However, the next prosecution witness will be produced some days after the end of the judicial recess.

Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is on trial at the ICC for allegedly failing to rein in his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers who brutalized civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR). He has pleaded not guilty to three counts of war crimes and two crimes against humanity, which prosecutors say were committed during 2002 and 2003.

Since the trial started in November 2010, the prosecution has produced 25 of the 40 witnesses it intends to call. These have included three expert witnesses: a gender and post-traumatic stress disorder expert; an expert on the use of rape as a tool of war; and a linguistics expert. The majority of those who have testified about the rape, murder, and pillaging allegedly carried out by Mr. Bemba’s MLC soldiers either suffered these crimes or witnessed them.

In an interview with www.bembatrial.org website last month, ICC Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda explained that most of their remaining witnesses are “insider witnesses,” who will testify about the command structure of the MLC’s operations in the CAR and also link Mr. Bemba to the crimes he is charged with. A military expert will be called too.

“This is the first case before the court regarding command responsibility and the failure of a commander to properly exercise effective control and authority over the troops,” explained Ms. Bensouda. “Therefore, the evidence of this military expert, we believe, will assist in understanding particularly the chain of command that operated in practice and as well as the reasonable and necessary measures that were available to a military commander in such a situation.”