Trial judges have granted an application by prosecutors to hear the evidence of one of their two outstanding witnesses in Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial via video link from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In a February 3, 2012 ruling, Judges Sylvia Steiner, Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki stated that the reasons that prevented ‘Witness 36’ from travelling to The Hague to give in-court testimony were “well founded.” As such, they allowed a prosecution application for the witness to give oral evidence from the Congolese capital.
“Testimony by video-link would allow Witness 36 to remain in the DRC during his testimony and would prevent the inevitable pain and suffering he would endure by travelling to The Hague,” Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in a January 10, 2012 application. He said the witness needed to avoid travelling, and in particular flying, due to his medical condition.
Whereas the defense did not oppose the request for the witness to testify via video link, it disapproved of the prosecutor’s late filing of that application, claiming it was made just a month before ‘Witness 36’ was scheduled to appear before Court. The defense hence asked prosecutors for additional information about the mental and physical state of the witness.
The judges ruled that although prosecutors did not submit supporting material about the health status of the witness, they saw “no compelling reason for doubting the prosecution’s submission that Witness 36 is effectively not in a position to travel and come to testify to The Hague at the moment.”
The judges said ‘Witness 36’ would be “appropriately” questioned by all parties in the trial without being physically present in the courtroom, and without prejudice to the rights of the accused to a fair trial.
Article 69(2) of the Rome Statute, which founded the International Criminal Court (ICC), allows for the testimony of a witness by video link, depending on the personal circumstances of the witness. This measure has previously been implemented in Mr. Bemba’s trial but in different circumstances.
Flavien Mbata, also known as ‘Witness 108,’ last June testified via video link from Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR). At the time, his professional commitments as a judge and the role he was playing in the country’s presidential election process were considered exceptional circumstances to allow him not to give evidence by physical presence in the courtroom.
Meanwhile today, the questioning of a former Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) insider today continued in closed session. ‘Witness 44’ started testifying in the trial last Friday. Before the start of his testimony, Judge Steiner announced that all of his evidence would be heard in closed session.
‘Witness 44’ is the 11th of 13 insider witnesses the prosecution stated in its opening statement that it would call to testify about the activities of the MLC, the group Mr. Bemba led, and whose soldiers prosecutors claim carried out rapes, murders, and pillaging against Central African civilians.
Mr. Bemba is on trial at the ICC for allegedly failing to rein his soldiers as they raped, murdered, and plundered the civilian population of the CAR during 2002-2003. He has pleaded not guilty.
Hearings in the trial continue tomorrow morning.