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Prosecutors Want to Question Bemba

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have asked judges to allow them to question war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba should he make unsworn oral or written statements on substantive issues relating to the charges against him.

“Pending a definitive defense submission on whether and in which manner the accused will make an unsworn statement at the conclusion of oral testimony by the remaining defense witnesses, the prosecution informs the chamber that it may require time to put questions to the accused,” said chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

In her September 9, 2013 submission, Ms. Bensouda stated that despite unsworn statements having limited evidentiary value, the prosecution should be allowed to put questions to the accused to test those portions of his statement with evidentiary value in order to assist judges in determining the truth.

Article 67 of the Rome Statute upon which the court is founded gives accused persons the right to make an unsworn oral or written statement in their defense. An accused also enjoys the right not to be compelled to testify or to confess guilt and to remain silent, without such silence being a consideration in the determination of guilt or innocence.

During a status conference last June, Mr. Bemba’s lawyers said that he would be their last witness. Earlier this month, they indicated that Mr. Bemba would not give sworn evidence and that it was being considered that he gives a brief unsworn statement. The lawyers said they would keep judges informed of further developments in this regard.

According to Ms. Bensouda, prosecutors should not be deprived of the right to question Mr. Bemba on relevant aspects of the case simply because he has chosen the right to make unsworn statements. Furthermore, she said the rights exercised by the accused under Article 67 should not be used “as a vehicle to address relevant issues in a case in the hope that this would enable him to evade questioning by the prosecution.”

Ms. Bensouda stated the nature and form of Mr. Bemba’s unsworn statement would determine whether and to what extent the prosecution would require time to question him on issues from his statement.

Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, who gave evidence in their own defense, were questioned by the prosecution, victims’ lawyers, and judges following the completion of their direct examination.

Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is on trial at the ICC for allegedly failing to control his Movement for the Liberation of Congo soldiers as they rampaged in the Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003. He has pleaded not guilty to two crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging). His defense case opened last August and has seen 32 individuals testify on his behalf. Four more witnesses are scheduled to testify before the close of the defense case.