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Bemba Trial: Prosecution Case Nears Close

The prosecution’s case in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today drew nearer to a close with the conclusion of the testimony of its second to last witness. All of the evidence given by the witness, going by the pseudonym ‘Witness 15,’ was closed to the public.

This witness started testifying against the former Congolese vice president last Wednesday. Prior to his appearance in court, Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner announced that “the whole testimony of Witness 15 will take place in closed session” in accordance with a ruling by judges.

At the start of hearings this morning, defense lawyer Peter Haynes stated that he would conclude his cross-examination of the former Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) insider today. Proceedings then turned into closed session.

Since the trial started on November 22, 2010, prosecutors have presented 39 of their 40 witnesses. Among those called were four expert witnesses: Dr. André Tabo, an expert on sexual violence as a tool of war; Dr. Adeyinka Akinsulure-Smith, a psychologist who testified about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among Central African rape survivors; Professor William Samarin, a linguist and anthropologist; and General Daniel Opande, who provided evidence on military command structures and command responsibility.

The rest of the witnesses have included individuals who prosecutors said were victimized, witnessed abuses, or could provide evidence on elements of crimes committed by the Congolese soldiers. In addition, former insiders have provided evidence on the activities and operations of the MLC – the accused’s private militia.

Mr. Bemba faces two crimes against humanity and three war crimes resulting from his alleged failure to stop or to punish his troops as they committed crimes against the civilian population of the Central African Republic (CAR) during 2002 and 2003. His troops were in the neighboring country at the invitation of the country’s then president Ange-Félix Patassé, who faced an armed insurgency that threatened to topple him.

Mr. Bemba, who was personally not in the conflict country with his fighters accused of raping, murdering and pillaging civilians, has pleaded not guilty to all the charges he faces.

Before adjourning the trial this afternoon, Judge Steiner announced that hearings would resume on Monday, February 20, 2012 “to hear the last prosecution witness by way of video link.” On February 3, 2012, judges granted an application by prosecutors to hear the evidence of ‘Witness 36’ via video link from the Democratic Republic of Congo.