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Three Victims to Address Bemba Trial Via Video Link

Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have authorized three victims to address the trial of former Congolese senator Jean-Pierre Bemba but said their views would not form part of the evidence. The victims will present their views and concerns via video link during the week of June 25, 2012 from an undisclosed location.

There are 4,121 victims participating in the trial of Mr. Bemba, who is accused of failing to stop or punish his rampaging Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers. Prosecutors say the accused’s fighters committed rapes, murders, and pillaging during 2002 and 2003.

Last March, Judges Sylvia Steiner (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Joyce Aluoch authorized two victims to provide oral testimony in court while three were granted leave to express their views and concerns in person through means to be determined by the chamber. The two victims gave oral, in-court testimony earlier this month.

Victims’ lawyers Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson and Assingambi Zarambaud subsequently observed that asking the three other victims to express their views and concerns in writing “would be overkill.” They stated that because these victims were illiterate and had already thrice given oral statements, “the least could be to have them testify via video link so as not to impose a further writing exercise on them, since they are not allowed to physically attend court.”

Ms. Douzima-Lawson argued that permitting the victims to express their views to the court remotely would allow the chamber to observe their physical manner and demeanor, which would be important in establishing their credibility. The prosecution and the defense did not oppose this request.

In the May 24, 2012 ruling, judges declared that during the remote presentation of their views and concerns, Victims a/0542/08, a/0394/08, and a/0511/08 would not be questioned by parties in the trial. Rather, their legal representatives would guide them through their presentations.

“Any statement that they provide will not be given under oath. Further, the victims will not be questioned by the parties and their views and concerns will not form part of the evidence of the case,” the judges ruled.

Court documents show that Victim a/0542/08 is a victim of pillage and rape allegedly carried out by Mr. Bemba’s soldiers in the Central African Republic (CAR) town of Bossangoa. Victim a/0394/08, a victim of pillage in Damara town, is expected to address court about the crimes of murder and rape. Victim a/0511/08 was injured by a gunshot reportedly fired by the accused’s soldiers, and he was an eyewitness to the murder of his mother.

According to the judges, each victim’s presentation of views and concerns should not exceed one hearing day.

Earlier this month, two victims testified at The Hague-based court. Pulchérie Makiandakama, also known as Victim a/0866/10, recounted the arrival of MLC troops in her hometown on March 5, 2003. She stated that the Congolese soldiers forcefully took her as an interpreter as they advanced on the town, then twice gang-raped her in the vicinity of a Central African military camp.

Judes Mbetingou, the second victim who testified, recalled the widespread pillaging and rape allegedly committed by soldiers belonging to the accused’s militia in the town of Sibut.