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Bemba Trial Continues in Closed Session

A former insider in the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), who is the last prosecution witness in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba, on Wednesday continued giving testimony exclusively in closed session. He testified via video link from the Congolese capital Kinshasa.

Initially scheduled to start testifying nearly a month ago, ‘Witness 36’ had health problems that hindered him from taking the stand until yesterday. In their application for this witness to give oral evidence remotely, prosecutors said using video link would prevent the “inevitable pain and suffering” he would endure by traveling to The Hague. They said this witness sustained injuries in July 2011 but did not elaborate.

Judges granted the application on February 3, 2012. At the start of proceedings yesterday, Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner announced that all testimony by ‘Witness 36’ would be heard in closed session.

Mr. Bemba is the fourth Congolese national to be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Thomas Lubanga, another Congolese who has been on trial since January 2009, was today found guilty of using child soldiers in the Ituri province of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, also Congolese nationals, have been jointly charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Ituri.

Prosecutors at the ICC charge that MLC troops murdered, raped, and plundered as they aided former Central African president Ange-Félix Patassé’s campaign against an armed insurrection in 2002 and 2003. As their commander-in-chief, Mr. Bemba is being held criminally responsible for the alleged crimes. He has pleaded not guilty, arguing that once his troops left Congolese territory, they no longer fell under his command but that of Mr. Patassé.

Whereas Mr. Bemba was not stationed in the neighboring country at the time of the conflict, prosecutors claim that he visited his trips on the Central African frontlines, that he maintained direct control over his commanders who were stationed there, and that he had the means to communicate directly to them.

‘Witness 36’ is scheduled to continue testifying tomorrow morning.