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Bemba’s Lawyers Granted More Time to Present Their Evidence

Trial judges have granted Jean-Pierre Bemba’s defense team more time to complete the presentation of its evidence, but it remains uncertain whether all four outstanding witnesses will get to testify.

The deadline to complete presentation of the defense evidence had earlier been set for today, October 25. However, in an October 23, 2013 ruling, International Criminal Court (ICC) judges said it was appropriate to grant an extension, following difficulties encountered in getting the witnesses before the court.

According to the defense, the testimony of ‘Witness D04-54,’ ‘Witness D04-14,’ ‘Witness D04- 41,’ and ‘Witness D04-44’ was relevant to the trial but difficulties related to making the necessary arrangements for their appearance before the court made the October 25 deadline “untenable.” Details of these difficulties have not been made public.

Meanwhile, the registry said it was “infeasible” to organize the appearance of ‘Witness D04-54’ before the deadline. “Additional requests” recently made by the other witnesses made it impossible for them to appear this week.

Judges ruled that the testimony of ‘Witness D04-54’ should commence no later than October 30 and conclude by November 1. The registry was ordered to report to the chamber by October 30 on the availability and feasibility of hearing the testimony of the other witnesses.

On the basis of the registry’s report, judges will decide whether a further extension would be appropriate to allow the defense to present the testimony of these three individuals. Earlier this week, the defense requested judges to extend the deadline to December 15, 2013.

On July 16, 2013, judges ordered that presentation of evidence by the defense be concluded by October 25. At the time, the judges noted that extended sitting hours over the subsequent months would give the defense “roughly” the same amount of time to present its case as that taken by the prosecution.

Prosecutors called 40 witnesses over a period of 16 months, starting in November 2010. Since the start of their case in August 2012, the defense has presented 32 witnesses.

During 2002 and 2003, Mr. Bemba’s personal militia – the Movement for the Liberation of Congo – went into the Central African Republic to assist the country’s then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, to fight off an uprising.

Prosecutors at the ICC charge that the Congolese troops indiscriminately murdered, raped, and looted against the country’s civilian population with the knowledge and inaction of their commander-in-chief, Mr. Bemba. He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of war crimes and three counts of crimes against humanity.