There were no hearings in the war crimes trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today. The eighteenth witness to be called by the defense was scheduled to take the stand this morning, but for unknown reasons his appearance was postponed to this Wednesday, April 17.
The witness, who goes by the court given name ‘Witness D04-39,’ was last week granted leave to testify via video link from an unknown location due to “logistical difficulties” in arranging his travel to testify at the seat of the court in The Hague. In March, defense lawyers had applied for authorization to hear this individual’s testimony remotely because he was not in possession of a passport or visa.
In their April 12 ruling, Judges Sylvia Steiner, Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki noted that based on information provided to them by the Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU), no passport application for the witness had been submitted as of April 3, 2013.
As a result of this delay, the judges ruled, “on an exceptional basis,” to hear the testimony of ‘Witness D04-39’ via video link. They considered that arrangements for his travel “would seriously impact upon the expeditious conduct of the proceedings as they would result in a prolonged gap in the presentation of evidence by the defense”.
Article 67 of the Rome Statute, upon which the ICC was founded, allows for alternatives to giving live testimony before the court. Persons appearing before the court can give evidence in trials by means of audio and video technology whenever necessary. The personal circumstances of a witness are among the criteria considered when determining whether or not one should be allowed to give testimony by means of video technology.
Meanwhile, judges have also ordered a status conference to take place tomorrow, April 16, for the defense team, members of the Court’s Registry, and the VWU to “address issues relating to the presentation of evidence by the defense.” The conference is scheduled to take place in closed session.
Mr. Bemba has been on trial at the ICC since November 2010 for two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging). The former vice president of Congo has denied all five charges against him. His defense cased opened in August 2012.