The Jean-Pierre Bemba trial resumes tomorrow, with five witnesses who will be called in June scheduled to testify via video-link. According to the defense, most of these witnesses were unable to travel to the seat of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague because they did not possess the necessary documents to travel to Europe.
The four last witnesses to appear for Mr. Bemba have also testified via video link from undisclosed locations. Many of the upcoming witnesses were senior officials in the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), the political group Mr. Bemba led, or soldiers in its militia arm, which prosecutors claim committed war crimes during 2002 and 2003. Others were soldiers in the army of the Central African Republic, who fought alongside Mr. Bemba’s fighters during the conflict that his fighters are alleged to have committed rapes, murders, and pillaging.
In a May 30, 2013 filing, the defense stated that six witnesses were available to testify between this week and July 8. These are: ‘Witness D04-18,’ ‘Witness D04-02,’ ‘Witness D04-09,’ ‘Witness D04-03,’ ‘Witness D04-04’ and ‘Witness D04-06.’ All would testify via video link – with the possible exception of ‘Witness D04-18.’
Two days before making this revised order of witnesses, the defense informed judges that it no longer intended to present ‘Witness D04-08’ “due to ongoing and significant security concerns surrounding this witness.” The defense did not explain these concerns. Last month, the defense dropped 13 other individuals off its witness list because of difficulties in securing their appearance before the court.
Meanwhile, defense lawyers stated that the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) only informed them last Thursday that ‘Witness D04-18’ had received authorization from his government to testify at the ICC. The defense had earlier expected this witness to testify during May, but his authorization took several months to come through. According to Mr. Bemba’s lawyers, the VWU said the authorization for this witness was at risk of being revoked should he not be called immediately by the defense.
Judges approved the revised order of witnesses, which, they hoped, would allow them to hear six witnesses without interruption.
The trial is scheduled to resume on Wednesday June 5.