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Prosecutor Wants Bemba Defense Case Date Set

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has expressed concern about delays by the defense of Jean-Pierre Bemba to announce the date when it will commence its case. Accordingly, the prosecutor has asked trial judges to convene a status conference in order to set a definitive date when the former Congolese vice president will open his defense in the war crimes trial that opened in November 2010.

In a May 14, 2012 application to trial judges, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo stated that the delay in setting the date for the start of the defense case was detrimental to the fair and expeditious conduct of the proceedings.

“The prosecution must make necessary preparations well in advance of the defense presentation of evidence. Namely, the prosecution must take into account staffing and administrative issues of the prosecution team, budgetary issues, and the management of other resources within the Office of the Prosecutor,” submitted Mr. Moreno-Ocampo. “The prosecution submits that it is imperative that the chamber fix the date for the commencement of the defense presentation of evidence in order for the prosecution to sufficiently prepare.”

At a status conference on March 27, 2012, Mr. Bemba’s lawyers gave August of this year as the likely date when the first defense witness would testify and projected that their case would last longer than one year. The defense also stated that it would be in a position to file the appropriate pre-defense brief, together with its list of witnesses and documents, before the beginning of the court’s summer recess this July.

Defense lawyer Peter Haynes said they expected to call about the same number of witnesses as those called by prosecutors. Over the course of 16 months following the opening of the trial, prosecutors called 40 witnesses.

Mr. Haynes stated that unlike the prosecution witnesses, the defense would call witnesses with “tangible knowledge” of the five-month long operations of Mr. Bemba’s soldiers who took part in the 2002-2003 armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR). “They will take rather longer [giving testimony] than the prosecution’s whose knowledge of the events was second-hand and partial,” he said. “We are looking at a period in excess of a year, probably as long as two years.”

In its latest filing, the prosecution notes that trial judges allowed for contact with opposing party witnesses prior to their testimony at trial. The prosecution says it wishes to inquire into the modalities and locations of such witness contact.

Furthermore, at the proposed status conference, the prosecution would like to inquire whether the defense intends to call further expert witnesses and if so, seek clarification from the chamber regarding the disclosure procedures to be adopted with regard to expert witnesses and any reports produced by them. The defense has previously stated that it intends to call an undisclosed number of expert witnesses.

For its case, the prosecution called four expert witness: Dr. André Tabo, an expert on sexual violence as a tool of war; Dr. Adeyinka Akinsulure-Smith, a psychologist who testified about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among Central African rape survivors; Professor William Samarin, a linguist and anthropologist; and General Daniel Opande, who provided evidence on military command structures and command responsibility.

Mr. Bemba is on trial at the ICC for three war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging) and two crimes against humanity (murder and rape) arising from his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops’ alleged brutal behavior against the Central African civilian population.

The Congolese troops were among the armed forces active in an armed power struggle between former CAR president, Ange-Félix Patassé, and current president François Bozizé between October 2002 and March 2003. Mr. Bemba has pleaded not guilty to all five charges against him.

Trial judges are yet to rule on the prosecution’s application regarding the status conference.