International Criminal Court (ICC) judges have ordered prosecutors to produce their last witness in the trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba. They directed that this witness, who has hitherto failed to commence testimony due to medical reasons, should start giving his evidence on March 13, 2012.
Judges Sylvia Steiner, Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki ruled last week that if the set date cannot be met, they would consider whether any request for further postponement of the testimony of ‘Witness 36’ would be consistent with the rights of the accused to a fair and expeditious trial.
‘Witness 36’ is the last witness to be called by prosecutors in Mr. Bemba’s trial at The Hague-based court. The former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo is accused of failure to rein in his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers as they allegedly raped, murdered, and pillaged in the Central African Republic during 2002 and 2003. He has pleaded not guilty to three counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity.
At the start of last month, judges granted an application by prosecutors to hear the testimony of ‘Witness 36’ via video link from Kinshasa, the Congolese capital. In that ruling, judges stated that the medical reasons advanced by prosecutors that prevented this witness from giving in court-testimony were “well founded.” Prosecutors said remote testimony would “prevent the inevitable pain and suffering” the witness would endure by traveling to The Hague. They said this witness sustained injuries in July 2011.
‘Witness 36’ was expected to start testifying on February 16, but this was postponed to February 21 as health reasons made it impossible for the witness to start giving testimony. The court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) said then that the witness needed ten days to recover.
In ordering that the witness commences his testimony next week, trial judges stated that the physical and psychological well-being of the witness had been considered. However, they noted the need “to strike a balance” between the personal circumstances of ‘Witness 36’ and their duty to ensure a fair and expeditious trial.
“The chamber is of the view that although there was good cause for postponing the testimony of ‘Witness 36’ up until now, the date of his testimony needs to be determined with certainty given that the next procedural stages in the case depend on it,” the judges stated.
Since the start of the trial in November 2010, prosecutors have called 39 witnesses. Once the prosecution case ends, selected victims participating in the trial will give oral testimony before the start of the defense case.