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Thousands More Apply to Join Bemba’s Trial as Victims

With more than 1,600 victims already participating in the trial of Congolese senator Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC), additional applications exceeding 3,000 are being processed by court organs.

The Victims Participation and Reparations Section (VPRS) of the court on August 26, 2011 informed judges that as many as 2,830 applications were expected to be filed over the course of the coming months. Trial judges Sylvia Steiner, Kuniko Ozaki, and Joyce Aluoch have approved a plan by the VPRS to finalize submission of these applications to the chamber in batches of 200 to 350 by January 13, 2012.

Last July, the number of victims participating in the trial rose to more than 1,600, following the approval of 301 applications. Since then, the court’s registry has submitted to the chamber an additional 475 applications.

The judges stated on September 9, 2011, that they were aware that the preparation of observations on these applications placed a heavy burden on the parties to the trial. They ruled, nonetheless, that in relation to the forthcoming sets of applications, the chamber would apply the 21-day timeline for the parties to respond to the applications pursuant to Regulation 34(b) of the court’s Regulations.

The judges explained that they aimed to put in place a schedule for the filing of future applications, which ensured compliance with the requirement under Article 68(3) of the Rome Statute that victims’ rights to have their views and concerns presented in the proceedings were reconciled with the rights of the accused and a fair and impartial trial.

Accordingly, the judges instructed the Office of Public Counsel for the Defense (OPCD) to continue assisting Mr. Bemba’s defense with making observations on the forthcoming applications.

Mr. Bemba’s trial over murders, rapes, and looting carried out by his soldiers in the Central African Republic, has the highest number of participating victims of all the trials taking place at the ICC. In Thomas Lubanga’s trial, there are 123 participating victims, while in the joint trial of Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, judges have granted 365 victims the right to participate in the proceedings.

Under the trials conducted by the ICC, victims’ lawyers are permitted to attend all court hearings, including those held in private session. Some victims have dual status, meaning they are both victims and witnesses. Moreover, once an accused is found guilty, victims can ask for reparations, compensation, or restitution for the damage suffered. If the person convicted has no financial resources, the court would have to use the Trust Fund for Victims to provide reparations to the victims.

Mr. Bemba’s trial, which opened last November, has heard from 29 of the scheduled 40 prosecution witnesses. On Monday, prosecutors will call their 30th witness.