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Bemba Hearings Cancelled Until Next Week

Hearings in Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have been put off all of this week, as the witness who had been expected to testify was unavailable to start giving evidence. Court officials and defense lawyers were unable to provide reasons as to why the witness could not start testifying.

The defense has said it will call four more witnesses, as well as Mr. Bemba himself, before closing its case at the end of this month. However, defense lawyers said last month that there were no measures in place yet to enable three of those witnesses to give evidence via video link from the unnamed country where they are based.

The majority of defense witnesses have testified via video link from African countries. Many of them are either refugees who went into exile after the regime they served as senior military or civil service officials in the Central African Republic (CAR) was overthrown. Many others who served in rebel forces or with the national army in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) also live in exile. Others are still in military service in the DRC and are constrained from giving testimony in support of Mr. Bemba, a key opponent of Congolese president Joseph Kabila.

The defense has said many of those witnesses who are refugees do not have passports to enable them to travel to the seat of the court in The Hague, while others were based in countries where the ICC had not concluded agreements to enable it set up video link facilities through which these witnesses would give evidence remotely. Furthermore, the defense has in the past observed that there was a fear for self-incrimination by some witnesses.

Accordingly, Mr. Bemba’s lawyers have cut the number of witnesses it intends to call from 63 at the start of the defense case in August 2012 to 36. The witnesses still outstanding are ‘Witness D04-54,’ ‘Witness D04-14,’ ‘Witness D04-44,’ ‘Witness D04-41’ and Mr. Bemba. The defense has up to October 25 to conclude its case. It is not clear whether the chamber will call some witnesses.

Mr. Bemba, a former vice president 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 CAR 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).

Hearings are scheduled to resume on Monday, October 14.