The trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today stalled as the chamber was informed that the witness currently on the stand was unable to give evidence. The witness going by the pseudonym ‘Witness 178’ first appeared last Tuesday and gave all of his evidence with image and voice distortion as well as the use of private session in order to keep his identity secret.
In his testimony so far, ‘Witness 178’ has stated that Central African officials provided arms, uniforms, and communication devices to Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops upon their arrival in the Central African Republic (CAR) capital Bangui. The witness also named top MLC officers and stated that the accused and not Ange-Félix Patassé, the country’s then president, gave direct and frequent orders to the troops.
Today, although a hearing had been scheduled all day, at the start of the proceedings, presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner announced that following “information from the VWU [Victims and Witnesses Unit] that the witness is not in a condition to testify,” the trial would be adjourned to tomorrow morning. Judge Steiner did not give the details of ‘Witness 178’s condition.
Mr. Bemba, a Congolese national, has been on trial since last November. He is charged with two war crimes (murder and rape) and three crimes against humanity (murder, rape, and pillaging). The alleged crimes, committed by the MLC – Bemba’s personal army were committed during the 2002 – 2003 CAR armed conflict. Mr. Bemba has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.
‘Witness 178’ is scheduled to resume testifying tomorrow morning.