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Fifth Day of Closed Session in Bemba Trial

Today, the 40th witness called by the prosecution in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba continued to testify before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in closed session. Going by the court-given name ‘Witness 36,’ he commenced his testimony last Tuesday and is testifying via video link from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

‘Witness 36’ is a former insider in the accused’s private militia and is the last witness to testify before the prosecution closes its case in the trial that started on November 22, 2010. The prosecution has previously called four expert witnesses, 12 insider witnesses, and 23 individuals whom they said were victimized, witnessed the abuses, or could provide evidence on the elements of crimes committed.

Mr. Bemba, 49, is on trial at The Hague-based court over crimes of rape, murder, and pillaging allegedly committed by his troops during their deployment in an armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR). He has pleaded not guilty to three war crimes and two crimes against humanity, which prosecutors claim arose from his failure to control or discipline his rampaging Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers.

The Congolese fighters were in the conflict country to help its then embattled president, Ange-Félix Patassé, beat off a coup attempt led by current president François Bozizé. In denying the charges against him, Mr. Bemba has stated that once his troops crossed the Congo-CAR border, they fell under the command of Central African authorities and not his. He further counters that besides the MLC, other forces active in the conflict could have committed the alleged crimes.

These groups included forces led by Colonel Abdoulaye Miskine that fell outside the regular army and reported directly to the president, the SCPS (la Société centrafricaine de protection et de surveillance), the presidential security group known as United Presidential Security (USP), Libyan forces, and troops from the 21-nation regional grouping, the Community of Saharan-Sahel State, or CEN-SAD, as well as ethnic militia groups and rebels led by Mr. Bozizé.

Most of the witnesses in the Bemba trial have testified with their identities protected in order to protect them from potential reprisal attacks. Up to six former insiders in the group led by the accused have given all their evidence in closed session.

The trial is scheduled to continue tomorrow morning.