The number of victims participating in Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has risen to 1,620 after judges approved another 307 applications last week.
Judges rejected 23 applications, while another 70 applications will be decided upon once additional information is provided. In a July 8, 2011 ruling, the Trial Chamber, presided over by Judge Sylvia Steiner, set September 16, 2011 as the deadline for submission to the court’s Registry of any new victims’ applications for participation in the trial.
Of all trials taking place at the ICC, Mr. Bemba’s has the largest number of participating victims. In Thomas Lubanga’s trial, there are 118 participating victims, while in the joint trial of Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo, judges have granted 365 victims the right to participate in the proceedings.
In its filing on May 17, 2011, the prosecution supported the authorization of 316 of the 401 applications, saying they met all requirements under Article 68(3) of the Rome Statute for participation in the proceedings at the trial stage. However, prosecutors said redactions on 49 applications made it difficult to determine whether they met the requirements. In relation to 33 applications, the prosecution stated that the applications should be deferred until further information was provided.
For its part, the defense asked judges to reject all the 401 applications, arguing that none of them fulfilled the requisite criteria. The defense also stated that it faced difficulties related to the delay in the filing of applications, with the latest batch having been transmitted in the middle of the prosecution case when the defense was entirely occupied with the daily preparation of the ongoing trial and investigations.
Furthermore, Mr. Bemba’s lawyers asserted that the delay in transmitting the latest batch of applications prevented them from asking pertinent questions to the 20 first prosecution witnesses on the basis of information and allegations contained in those applications. The defense therefore reserved the right to request judges to recall these witnesses in order to present such additional questions or submissions, the lawyers said.
The defense also argued that the testimony by the prosecution’s ‘witness 73′ had cast a doubt as to the extent of intermediaries’ involvement in filling out the applications, and therefore requested judges to reject applications filled out with the assistance of the intermediaries concerned.
Finally, the defense stated that a significant number of applications were incomplete because they did not provide precise dates or locations or were not supported by any valid identity document.
Judges Steiner, Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki agreed with the defense’s assertion that the testimony of ‘witness 73’ cast a doubt as to the extent of an intermediary’s involvement in the application process and consequently deferred the applications concerned until further information was received.
According to the defense, ‘witness 73’ testified that a particular individual was working together with a team of persons who were filling out applications in various locations. These persons had documents with the ICC logo that made the witness believe that they were ICC officials. The defense submitted that this informed had testified that this unnamed individual actively encouraged the applicants to exaggerate the value of pillaged items, to invent pillaged items, and to lie with regard to the crimes committed.
However, the judges rejected the defense’s arguments regarding redactions as a ground for rejecting applications. Nonetheless, the judges stated, “Concerning the redaction of identity documents, the Chamber instructs the Registry to avoid redacting the entire document, when the redaction of specific information appearing on this document would be sufficient,” the judges ruled.
They also said that where the Chamber found that an application was redacted to such an extent that the redactions prevented the parties from making any meaningful observations, they would defer the application concerned and order that unnecessary redactions be removed.