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Judges Authorize 457 More Victims to Participate in Bemba Trial

Another 457 victims have been granted permission to participate in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo charged over rapes, murders, and pillaging allegedly committed by his soldiers.

In their March 9 decision, trial judges rejected 12 applications and ordered the court’s Registry to submit to the Chamber a report on any potential requests for protective and special measures for victims.

Before this latest order, judges had permitted 2,287 victims to participate in the trial that started in November 2010. Legal representatives of victims are ever present in court during hearings, including those held in closed session.

Moreover, judges have authorized five victims to provide evidence in the trial. Two will provide oral testimony in court, while three will express their views in person, through means yet to be determined by judges.

With regard to the latest applications to participate in the trial, the defense asked judges to reject all 471 applicants. It challenged “the causal link between the harm suffered and the location of MLC [Movement for the Liberation of Congo] troops or the charges against the accused.” The MLC was the militia group led by Mr. Bemba, whose soldiers prosecutors claim brutalized civilians in the Central African Republic.

The defense also argued that some applications were incomplete and challenged the credibility of a number of identity documents and the accounts provided by the applicants.

The prosecution submitted that 403 out of 471 applicants should be granted authorization to participate as they met all of the requirements under Article 68(3) of the Rome Statute for participation at the trial stage of proceedings. In the end, the trial judges approved 457 out of the 471 applications.

Since Tuesday this week, the last of the prosecution’s 40 witnesses has been testifying entirely in closed session. Going by the pseudonym ‘Witness 36,’ this witness is providing evidence via video link from the Congolese capital Kinshasa.

The trial is scheduled to continue on Monday morning.