After a one month hiatus, Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) is set to resume on Tuesday to hear the testimony of select victims participating in the proceedings. Judges had previously ordered that victims granted leave to give evidence in the trial should appear on Thursday last week, but for unknown reasons this has been rescheduled for Tuesday, May 1.
Mr. Bemba, who is charged with three war crimes and two crimes against humanity, has been on trial at the court based in The Hague since November 2010. Prosecutors closed their case last month after calling 40 witnesses. These included crime-based witnesses (individuals who prosecutors say were victimized, witnessed abuses, or could provide evidence on the alleged crimes committed) as well as expert witnesses and former insiders in the accused’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC).
In a February 22, 2012 ruling, Judges Sylvia Steiner, Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki authorized five victims to provide evidence after the close of the prosecution case and before the start of the defense case. Two victims were granted leave to give oral testimony, while the remaining three would express their views and concerns by means yet to be determined by the judges.
One of the victims authorized to provide in-court testimony is a rape survivor and pillage victim in the town of Mongoumba in the Central African Republic (CAR). She also witnessed several instances of pillaging and murder in various locations, purportedly at the hands of Mr. Bemba’s soldiers. The second victim is also expected to provide evidence on murder, rape and pillaging committed by the Congolese troops. Furthermore, this victim allegedly witnessed a visit by Mr. Bemba to the town of Sibut.
Mr. Bemba’s trial has the largest number of participating victims of all trials so far conducted at the ICC. At the start of the trial, 135 victims had been allowed to participate. By December 2011, the number had grown to 1,861. To date, there are 2,744 victims participating in the trial.
In the trial of Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga, who was last month found guilty of using and conscripting child soldiers, there were 129 participating victims. In the ongoing joint trial of two other Congolese militia leaders, Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, there are 365 participating victims.
Prosecutors charge that as commander-in-chief of the MLC, Mr. Bemba is criminally responsible for the rape, murder, and pillaging committed by his troops against Central African civilians. The Congolese troops were among numerous armed groups active in the 2002-2003 armed conflict in the CAR. He denies the charges.