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Bemba Trial Resumes Next Week

Hearings in the trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba will resume on Monday, April 8, most likely with the testimony of ‘Witness D04-21,’ who will testify via video link from an undisclosed location. The trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been on spring judicial recess since March 28.

On April 3, the three-judge panel of Sylvia Steiner, Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki granted the witness permission to give evidence remotely, despite objections by the prosecution, which wanted the witness to give live testimony in The Hague.

The defense said the witness was unable to travel to the seat of the court due to the illness of a person close to him. This required his ongoing presence in the country where the patient is.

The prosecution submitted that the defense was “routinely seeking the presentation of the evidence of its most important witnesses” through video link, even though it should be used on an exceptional basis. Furthermore, the prosecution stated that the defense request was unsubstantiated because it did not provide documents to support the reportedly poor health status of the unnamed individual.

According to the judges, the witness twice “firmly” refused to travel to The Hague when he was contacted by the Victims and Witnesses Unit on instructions of the chamber.

While granting the witness permission to testify via video link, the judges acknowledged the personal circumstances of the witness and his unwillingness to travel to The Hague. They noted that a witness could be allowed to give testimony by means of video due to their personal circumstances. Although personal circumstances had been interpreted as linked to the well-being of a witness, the chamber was not confined by the Rome Statute in considering other types of personal circumstances which might justify a witness testifying by means of audio or video technology.

Since the start of his defense case last August, sixteen witness have testified for Mr. Bemba, who denies that he failed to control his Movement for the Liberation of Congo troops who reportedly raped, killed, and pillaged during their 2002-2003 deployment in an armed conflict in the Central African Republic.