Trial judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have set August 14, 2012 as the start date for the defense case of war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba, whose trial commenced in November 2010.
Prosecutors called a total of 40 witnesses, who last March completed testifying about Mr. Bemba’s complicity in rapes, murders, and pillaging committed in the Central African Republic (CAR). Two of the more than 4,000 victims participating in the trial have also testified, while another three victims will later this month address the trial via video link.
Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been in custody at the court’s Scheveningen detention center in The Hague since July 2008. He is accused of failing to stop or punish his soldiers who are alleged to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The crimes, prosecutors say, took place when the accused’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops were deployed in an armed conflict in that country during 2002 and 2003.
According to the judges, the defense stated at an ex parte status conference last month that it intended to call “approximately 60 people.” Judges Sylvia Steiner (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Joyce Aluoch feel the number may need to be reduced.
“In the exercise of its powers and in light of its obligations, the chamber is considering – if necessary in order to ensure the fairness and expeditiousness of the proceedings – limiting the total number of witnesses to be called by the defense, in view of the relevance, probative value and potential prejudice to a fair trial of their proposed testimonies,” said the judges in a May 24 ruling in which they set the date for commencement of the defense case.
Judges were also considering altering the order of appearance of the defense witnesses, particularly by calling any expert witnesses at the commencement of the presentation of evidence by the defense and limiting the number of hours and total length of the defense’s presentation of evidence.
The judges stated that in order to make an informed decision, the defense should provide them with additional information regarding each of its anticipated witnesses. Moreover, if the defense is allowed to call expert witnesses, the reports of the experts should be disclosed to the prosecution by July 13.
Judges have also ordered the defense to:
a. File by July 13, 2012 any requests for redactions to material it intends to use at trial, if applicable;
b. Disclose and permit the prosecution to inspect any material it intends to use as evidence, by July 13, 2012;
c. Provide the prosecution, legal representatives, and the chamber with the complete identity of its prospective witnesses, their anticipated order of appearance, the estimated length of questioning for each witness as well as any requests for in-court protective measures, by July 13, 2012;
d. Provide the prosecution, legal representatives, and the chamber with a list of all the documents it intends to rely upon as evidence, indicating (1) those that have already been admitted as evidence; and (2) the level of confidentiality of each item, by July 13, 2012;
e. Provide the parties to the trial with statements of the witnesses whom it intends to call to testify or a summary of the key elements that each witness will address during their testimony, by July 13, 2012;
f. Provide the prosecution, legal representatives, and the chamber with a document outlining the legal and factual issues that it intends to raise during its presentation of evidence as well as the defenses to be advanced by the accused, by July 13, 2012; and
g. In relation to the testimony of the first witness to be called by the defense, provide the prosecution, legal representatives, and the chamber, no later than on August 6, 2012, with a list of the documents it intends to use during questioning, identifying the material it intends to submit as evidence during questioning and the level of confidentiality of each document.