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Witness Called by Bemba Judges to Testify Next Week

Next week, a witness called by judges will start testifying in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the Congolese opposition leader charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. While International Criminal Court (ICC) judges requested that two individuals testify, one of them has declined to give evidence for reasons not made public.

Going by the court given name ‘Witness CHM-01,’ the chamber’s witness is expected to take the stand on Monday, November 18. The names of the two individuals who judges requested to testify had been “repeatedly mentioned” by prosecution and defense witnesses, but it is not known what role they played during 2002 and 2003 when the accused’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers allegedly committed crimes during an armed conflict.

Mr. Bemba is on trial for failing to stop or punish his soldiers, who prosecutors claim committed rape, murder, and pillaging while deployed in the Central African Republic. He denies the charges.

On October 18, 2013, judges directed the court’s registry to determine the whereabouts of the two individuals and their willingness to give evidence before the court. The judges said although these individuals’ names were repeatedly mentioned during trial proceedings, neither prosecutors nor Mr. Bemba’s lawyers had called them to testify.

In an October 24 report, the registry informed judges that both individuals had been located and informed of the chamber’s interest in calling them as witnesses. However, only ‘Witness CHM-01’ was willing to testify.

Judges ordered that ‘Witness CHM-01′ testify in person at the seat of the court in The Hague. However, if “logistical difficulties” prevented this, he would appear by way of video link. The witness would be questioned by the judges first, followed by the prosecution and thereafter the legal representatives of victims in the trial – subject to prior approval of their written applications. Lastly, the defense would question the witness.

“As regards the scope of questioning, the Chamber will question the witness on relevant and contested issues in the Bemba case. The parties and participants’ questioning shall likewise focus on such issues, and may also concern the credibility of the witness, the reliability of the evidence presented, and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances,” said the judges. Only neutral, non-leading questions should be put to the witness, the judges added.

Hearings in the trial are scheduled to resume tomorrow morning with the testimony of a defense witness.