Nkwebe Liriss, the lead counsel of Jean-Pierre Bemba’s defense team, has passed away in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to a statement issued today by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“Mr. Nkwebe Liriss’s death is an enormous loss to the court. His sharp legal acumen and dedication made him a highly accomplished jurist. While missing his contributions, the ICC Registry will continue to offer all necessary support to the team that he was leading in order to guarantee a high-level legal representation of Mr. Bemba,” said Silvana Arbia, Registrar of the ICC.
The statement said Mr. Liriss passed away in the Congolese capital Kinshasa on February 26, 2012 “after a long illness,” but provided no other details. A national of the DRC, Mr. Liriss has led Mr. Bemba’s defense team since July 30, 2008, said the court statement.
In the absence of Mr. Liriss, Aime Kilolo-Musamba has been leading the defense team for the Congolese opposition leader, who faces three war crimes and two crimes against humanity. Other senior members of the defense team include Peter Haynes and Nick Kaufman.
Last April, Ange-Félix Patassé, the former Central African Republic (CAR) president, who invited Jean-Pierre Bemba’s troops into the country during the 2002-2003 conflict, passed away. His death came before ICC prosecutors had closed investigations into those who could be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity in relation to that conflict.
Mr. Bemba denies the crimes he is charged with, which arise from his alleged failure as commander-in-chief to stop and punish his soldiers who brutalized Central African civilians. He claims those soldiers were under the command of Mr. Patassé and that it was the former president who should have been put on trial.