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Last Prosecution Witness to Give All Evidence in Closed Session

The last prosecution witness in the trial of former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today took the witness stand, but judges said he would give all evidence in closed session.

Going by the pseudonym ‘Witness 36,’ this individual is testifying via video link from the Congolese capital Kinshasa. He is a former insider in the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), the group led by Mr. Bemba.

“We will begin today with the testimony of ‘Witness 36’ that will be given in closed session and by way of video link,” stated presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner. She added that this was pursuant to a confidential court ruling on protective measures for the witness.

Before the hearings turned into closed session, judges, victims’ lawyers, and members of the prosecution and defense teams paid tribute to Nkwebe Liriss, Mr. Bemba’s recently deceased lead counsel. Mr. Liriss passed away on February 26, 2012 after a yearlong battle with cancer. The accused has designated Aime Kilolo-Musamba as his new lead counsel.

Since November 2010, Mr. Bemba has been on trial at the ICC for failing to stop crimes allegedly committed by his Congolese troops against Central African civilians during that country’s 2002–2003 armed conflict. Prosecutors charge that while aware that his troops were carrying out widespread murder, rape, and pillaging, the accused did nothing to stop or punish them. He has pleaded not guilty to three war crimes and two crimes against humanity.

According to prosecutors, ‘Witness 36’ will testify about the MLC’s operations during their deployment in the Central African Republic (CAR). Furthermore, the witness is expected to provide evidence on the alleged liability of the accused. ‘Witness 36’ is the 40th, and last, witness called by prosecutors.

Hearings are scheduled to continue tomorrow morning.