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Seven Victims Apply to Testify Against Bemba

Seven victims have submitted statements to judges in support of their applications to give oral testimony in the trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba. The applicants are some of the more than 2,000 victims participating in the trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The defense and the prosecution had up to yesterday to submit their observations on the victims’ statements, after which judges would decide who of the victims may give testimony against the accused.

Initially, victims’ lawyers had submitted a list of 17 victims they wanted to testify, but judges directed them to draw up a list of no more than eight applicants.

These individuals, the judges said, should be those victims who are best placed to assist the Chamber in determining the truth, able to present evidence and concerns that affect the personal interests of the greatest number of participating victims, and are best placed to present testimony that will not be cumulative of that which has already been presented. Moreover, the victims should be willing for their identity to be disclosed to the parties in the event that they are permitted to testify.

Because the written statement of the eighth victim could not be submitted in time, judges are only considering seven victims’ applications. Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson, one of the victims’ lawyers, explained that they failed to trace the victim in time to take his statement.

It is anticipated that the trial will complete hearing the evidence of all prosecution witnesses this month, with the 39th of 40 scheduled witnesses currently giving evidence. The victims permitted to give evidence will testify before the defense case opens.

Ms. Douzima-Lawson has explained that the testimony of victims would serve to dispel misunderstandings over certain points, such as the manner in which the crimes were committed, the identity of the perpetrators, and the exact period of the events.

“Some victims will testify to Bemba’s visit to his troops in their localities and the devastation wreaked upon the population by the Banyamulenge [Congolese soldiers] through their behavior,” she said.

Mr. Bemba’s trial opened in November 2010, although he had been in ICC detention since July 2008. He is charged with failure to rein in his soldiers who reportedly killed, raped, and looted during their deployment in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Mr. Bemba denies the charges. He claims any of the numerous armed groups involved in the 2002-2003 conflict could have committed these crimes. He also denies that he was in command of his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops in the conflict country. Moreover, he contends that once he knew his soldiers were committing crimes, he put them to trial.

Ms. Douzima-Lawson has said all the 15 prosecution witnesses with dual status (both victims and witnesses) who have testified in the trial are from around Bangui, the capital of the CAR. The victims who want to testify are from Damara, Sibut, Boali, Bassangoa, Bozoum, and Mongouma – areas where crimes were committed, but the defense denies the MLC were the perpetrators.

In court today, ‘Witness 15’ continued giving all his evidence in closed session. He is a former insider in Mr. Bemba’s group. ‘Witness 44,’ who completed his evidence earlier this week, is also a former insider in the MLC and similarly gave all testimony in closed session.

The trial is scheduled to continue on Monday.