On November 5, trial judges in the Jean-Pierre Bemba trial granted another 777 victims the right to participate in proceedings against him at the International Criminal Court (ICC). This brought the number of victims participating in the trial of the former Congolese senator to 4,898– the highest number of any trial being conducted by the court.
The judges – Sylvia Steiner (presiding), Joyce Aluoch, and Judge Kuniko Ozaki – rejected submissions by the defense that all 799 applications for participation that were being considered by the judges should be rejected. For starters, the defense argued that any applications received by the Victims Participation and Reparations Section (VPRS) office of the court in The Hague after the September 16, 2011 deadline should not be permitted.
However, the Chamber was of the view that the defense’s request to declare null and void the last 42 applications transmitted on February 17, 2012 could not be sustained. The judges said, “While it is true that the Chamber’s decisions of 9 September and 9 December 2011 referred to an approximate total of 3,080 pending applications, it should be emphasized that this number was an estimate, intended to facilitate the organization of the parties’ preparations in light of the approximate number of pending victims’ applications, but not to serve as a limitation on the number of applications to be transmitted.”
The defense had also asked judges to reject all 799 applications, by challenging the causal link between the harm suffered by the applicants and the location of Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops at the relevant time, or between the harm suffered and the charges against the accused, as well as the extent of redactions applied to the applications.
Furthermore, the defense argued that some applications were incomplete and recalled its previous challenges to the credibility of a number of identity documents and accounts provided by applicants.
Judges disagreed with the defense, granting 777 applicants the right to participate. They ordered that six applications be withdrawn by the VPRS – five duplicate applications and one application that was filed by an unnamed organization that was dissolved subsequent to the transmission of the application. The VPRS was also ordered to consolidate two applications that were submitted in previous transmissions. Judges rejected 14 applicants.
For its part, the prosecution had submitted that 594 applicants should be granted authorization to participate as they met all requirements under Article 68(3) of the Rome Statute for participation at the trial stage of the proceedings.
Article 68(3) states:
Where the personal interests of the victims are affected, the Court shall permit their views and concerns to be presented and considered at stages of the proceedings determined to be appropriate by the Court and in a manner which is not prejudicial to or inconsistent with the rights of the accused and a fair and impartial trial. Such views and concerns may be presented by the legal representatives of the victims where the Court considers it appropriate in accordance withe the Rules of Procedure and Evidence.
The prosecution specified that 46 out of these 594 applicants met the requirements on account of crimes they personally suffered but should be invited to provide further information or documentation with regard to, inter alia, crimes allegedly suffered by their family members. The prosecution said additional information was needed on 193 applications.
Mr. Bemba, 50, is on trial at the ICC over the rape, murder, and pillaging allegedly carried out by the military arm of the MLC against civilians of the Central African Republic during 2002 and 2003. He denies the charges.
In another trial at the ICC, that of former Congolese opposition leader Thomas Lubanga, judges granted 129 persons the status of participating victims. Meanwhile, 366 victims have been granted the right to participate in the joint trial of Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui.
Mr. Bemba’s trial commenced in November 2010 and saw prosecutors call 40 witnesses, who completed testifying in March this year. The defense case opened last August. So far, the trial has heard from eleven defense witnesses, with the next one scheduled to take the witness stand on November 19, 2012.