International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Bemba Hearing Stalls Due to Connectivity Problems

Hearings in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba stalled on Friday due to the poor quality of sound that was being transmitted from the undisclosed location of a witness who was testifying via video link.

Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner prematurely adjourned hearings until next Monday, September 2, stating that the bad connection and the poor health of ‘Witness D04-30’ were making testimony “difficult.”

“Judges are very concerned about the poor quality sound, and we are also aware you are not feeling well and had to take medication,” she said, adding that giving testimony under those conditions was “too much and we have decided to suspend.”

‘Witness D04-30’ first appeared before the International Criminal Court this morning. Most of her evidence, under questioning by defense lawyer Peter Haynes, was heard in closed session. Evidence heard in the brief moments of open court indicates that during October 2002, rebels loyal to François Bozizé in the Central African Republic (CAR) raped her.

Due to difficulties in getting some of their witnesses to travel to the seat of the court in Europe, defense lawyers have sought leave from judges for most of their witnesses to testify remotely. This requires audio and video transmission over telecommunications networks between The Hague and African countries where the witnesses are based.

The connection via satellite is prone to disruptions. Last March, hearings stalled due to technical problems caused by a snowstorm in Europe. So far, 17 of the 31 witnesses called by Mr. Bemba’s lawyers have testified via video link. The trial started in November 2010 while the defense opened its case last August.

Mr. Bemba, an opposition leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is accused of failing to control his Movement for the Liberation of Congo soldiers who allegedly raped, murdered, and pillaged during the 2002-2003 armed conflict in the CAR. He denies two charges of war crimes and three crimes against humanity arguing that other armed groups that took part in the conflict committed the alleged crimes.

 

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