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Judges Order Bemba’s Lawyers to Close Defense Case This October

Trial judges have set a timeline for completion of Jean-Pierre’s Bemba’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), giving his defense an October 25, 2013 deadline to complete the presentation of its evidence. The prosecution and legal representatives of victims will file their closing briefs within eight weeks of the formal closure of presentation of evidence.

Since the start of the defense case last August, 25 witnesses have testified for the defense, and another 20 are lined up to testify once the court returns from the summer judicial recess.

In a July 16, 2013 ruling, judges said hearings would resume on August 20. This would give the defense two months to present the testimony of 20 witnesses. Judges Sylvia Steiner, Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki ordered that the trial would sit for six hours a day in order to expedite the completion of the defense case.

Mr. Bemba’s trial at the ICC started in November 2010, with the prosecution calling 40 witnesses. The former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been in the court’s detention since July 2008, following his arrest in Belgium by that country’s authorities.

Judges noted that because testifying for six hours a day might be too demanding on some witnesses, wherever appropriate the testimony of witnesses would be alternated to hear one witness in the morning and another in the afternoon.

Defense lawyers have described some of their upcoming witnesses as “vulnerable” because they were victims of abuses during the 2002-2003 armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Mr. Bemba denies charges of failing to control or punish his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers who allegedly carried out mass rapes, murders, and pillaging. He claims his forces did not commit abuses during the CAR conflict and denies that he had control over his forces during their deployment on foreign territory.

Judges ordered Mr. Bemba’s lawyers to file by August 12, 2013, a proposed order of appearance for their remaining witnesses.

According to the timeline, the prosecution and legal representatives of victims would file their closing briefs within eight weeks of the formal conclusion of the presentation of evidence. The defense’s closing brief would be filed in the following 12 weeks. The judges have not stated whether they would call any witnesses after the closure of the defense case.

The page limit for closing briefs for the defense and the prosecution is 400 pages, while for victims’ lawyers it is 150 pages.

The prosecution and victims’ lawyers will have two weeks to respond to the defense’s closing brief. The defense will then have two weeks to make a last response. Final oral submissions will be presented two weeks after the filing of this response by the defense.

Judges instructed that the closing briefs should focus on aspects of the case that are in dispute. They should “set out the legal and factual submissions concerning the contextual and specific elements of the war crimes and crimes against humanity charged and the individual criminal responsibility of the accused.”

The judges noted that the prosecution took 16 months to present its evidence, including judicial recesses and gaps caused by factors such as difficulties in scheduling witnesses. By the end of October 2013, the defense would have spent approximately 14 months on presenting its case. Although this period included two months of suspension of proceedings, they said, the chamber sat for extended hours in June and July this year and would continue to do so from August.

As such, the chamber considered that the total time granted to the defense for the presentation of its evidence would roughly mirror that taken by the prosecution.