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Victims to Commence Testimony on April 26

Judges have postponed the commencement of testimony by two victims participating in the trial of former Congolese senator Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to April 26, 2012. Initially, the chamber had ordered that victims granted leave to testify in the trial appear on April 23, 2012.

In a March 28, 2012 ruling, Judges Sylvia Steiner, Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki granted a request by the defense to postpone the evidence of the victims by “a couple of days” as they would be committed outside of The Hague.

The judges stated that after analyzing the defense’s request, they were “satisfied” that a postponement to the commencement of evidence by the victims would not affect the fairness and expeditiousness of the trial. Moreover, the postponement was not inconsistent with the rights of the accused and the protection of victims and witnesses.

At a status conference on March 27, 2012, the Victims and Witness Unit (VWU) informed the chamber that the procedures for the issuance of passports for the victims authorized to appear before the court had been initiated, and the VWU was working with the court Registry’s field operations section in order to expedite the process. However, the VWU said that it was difficult to anticipate whether it would be possible to have the victims in The Hague by the April 23 deadline.

The victims who will testify are based in the Central African Republic (CAR), the country where Mr. Bemba’s troops allegedly brutalized civilians during the 2002-2003 armed conflict. Three other victims have been authorized to present their concerns to the court in person, although it is not clear how this will be done. The prosecution and victims’ lawyers have suggested than these individuals could testify by video link.

Since November 2010, Mr. Bemba has been on trial at the ICC for failing to stop the rapes, killings, and pillaging allegedly perpetuated by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops. He has pleaded not guilty to three war crimes and two crimes against humanity.

Judges ordered the VWU to advise, by no later than April 12, whether the victims authorized to appear before the court would be able to commence their testimony on the set date.

Once the victims complete giving their evidence, the defense case will commence tentatively in August of this year. The defense intends to call around 40 witnesses.

The court is going on spring judicial recess today.