Hearings in the war crimes trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have been cancelled this week. The next witness to testify on behalf of the former vice president of Congo is expected to appear before the court next Monday, July 15.
‘Witness D04-15’ was expected to start giving evidence in person at the seat of the court on Monday this week. However, due to undisclosed medical and logistical difficulties, it was reported that this individual would not be able to travel to The Hague before July 15. Mr. Bemba’s lawyers therefore sought leave from the chamber to hear his testimony via video link.
In a July 3, 2013 ruling, judges granted the defense’s request, noting that if this witness gave evidence remotely, it would enable him to complete his testimony prior to the court’s summer recess that begins on July 19. Besides, Judges Sylvia Steiner (Presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Joyce Aluoch stated that it would avoid further gaps in the presentation of evidence by the defense.
Since the start of the defense case last August, 25 individuals have testified for Mr. Bemba. It had been expected that all defense witnesses would have completed testifying this month. However, the accused’s lawyers have on several occasions reported difficulties in getting their witnesses to give evidence before the chamber.
Meanwhile, defense lawyers have withdrawn three more individuals from their list of scheduled witnesses. These include ‘Witness D04-11,’ who was originally scheduled to start giving evidence last October. He did not board the flight booked to take him to The Hague and his whereabouts were reported as unknown. The reasons for dropping ‘Witness D04-13’ and ‘Witness D04-52’ are unknown. This brings to 45, the total number of witnesses expected to testify for Mr. Bemba, from the original list of 63.
Mr. Bemba is facing charges of failing to discipline his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers, who prosecutors allege committed rape, murder, and pillaging during 2002 and 2003. He denies the charges, stating that authorities in the Central African Republic, where his forces were deployed at the time, had the command and control responsibility over those troops.