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Judges to Call Two Witnesses in Bemba’s Trial

Judges will request two unnamed individuals to testify in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former Congolese opposition leader who has been on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) since November 2010.

According to the judges, the names of these individuals “have been repeatedly mentioned” by prosecution and defense witnesses, yet none of the parties in the trial had called them to testify.

On October 18, 2013, the judges directed the court’s registry to determine the whereabouts of these individuals and to establish whether they would be willing and able to give evidence before the court.

It is not known what role these individuals played at the time Mr. Bemba’s troops intervened in an armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) during 2002 and 2003. Individuals who played a key role in that conflict include current and former members of the Central African armed forces and Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) fighters, some of whom are serving in senior positions in the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Articles 64 and 69 of the Rome Statute upon which the court is founded allow for judges to call additional witnesses as they consider necessary for the determination of the truth.

Mr. Bemba is on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity arising from his alleged failure to control his troops, who prosecutors say brutalized civilians while deployed in the CAR. He denies the charges, maintaining that the marauding soldiers did not belong to his group and that he had no means to command troops deployed in the neighboring country while he remained in Congo.

The MLC troops were deployed in the conflict at the behest of the country’s then president Ange-Félix Patassé to assist him beat back an insurgency. Mr. Patassé passed away in April 2011, having been ousted in March of 2003. General François Bozizé, who captured power from Mr. Patassé, was himself deposed last March.

Since the start of the defense case in August 2012, the defense has called 32 witnesses. The defense expects to call four other witnesses while Mr. Bemba is also expected to make an unsworn statement. The outstanding defense witnesses are: ‘Witnesses D04-54,’ ‘Witness D04-14,’ ‘Witness D04- 41,’ and ‘Witness D04-44.’

There have been no hearings in the trial since September 13 because the outstanding witnesses have not been available commence testifying. All of them had earlier been expected to testify before the October 25, 2013 deadline judges gave the defense to close its case.

An ex-parte status conference was scheduled to take place this afternoon to address issues related to the outstanding defense witnesses. The status conference would be held in closed session and be attended by the defense, representatives of the registry, and the Victims and Witnesses Unit.

Hearings in the trial are scheduled to resume on Wednesday this week.