Under a new plan approved by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges, Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial will hear the evidence of defense witnesses who are based in Europe before the rest are invited to testify. This has been necessitated by difficulties encountered in bringing some witnesses – presumably based in Africa – to The Hague, where the ICC is trying the former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On October 3, 2012, Judges Sylvia Steiner, Kuniko Ozaki, and Joyce Aluoch directed that five Europe-based witnesses and a sixth, whose location was not disclosed, should start their testimony from next week as they faced no difficulties in appearing before the court. Once this group has completed testifying, the court will hear the evidence of the rest of the witnesses. Some of this testimony will be completed via video link or from the courtroom of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania.
Mr. Bemba’s defense started presenting its evidence on August 14, 2012 and has called four of the 63 planned witnesses. Those who testified included three experts and a crime-based witness.
From the last week of September, the unavailability of two witnesses led to the cancellation of hearings. ‘Witness D04-07’ testified for three days then disappeared from the court before he completed his testimony. ‘Witness D04-11’ was scheduled to appear next but did not board his flight to The Hague and could not be traced.
The defense stated at a status conference last week that some of its witnesses were “vulnerable,” others were likely to incriminate themselves during their testimony, while others had security concerns about themselves and their families. Lead defense counsel Aimé Kilolo-Musamba said 35 of their outstanding 59 proposed witnesses did not face any obstacles in appearing before the court. Of the 35, five resided in Europe and possessed travel documents.
Mr. Bemba has been on trial at the ICC since November 2010. He has denied charges that he failed to control or punish his Movement for the Liberation of Congo soldiers who allegedly carried out mass rapes, murders, and pillaging against civilians in the Central African Republic during an armed conflict in 2002 and 2003.
Hearings in the trial are scheduled to resume on Monday October 15, 2012.