After nearly three and a half years, judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have declared that the submission of evidence in the trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba’s has come to an end.
In an April 7, 2014 ruling, the prosecution and the victims’ lawyer were directed to file their closing briefs by June 2, 2014. The defense was asked to state whether it was still interested in receiving a French translation of the prosecution’s closing brief before making its submissions.
Judges previously ruled that the defense would file its closing brief within 12 weeks of receiving the submissions of the prosecution and victims’ lawyer because they would have to be translated for the bilingual defense team.
The evidence admitted in the Bemba case consists of transcripts from the testimony of 77 witnesses and 704 items of documentary evidence. The prosecution called 40 witnesses while the defense had 34 witnesses. Two victims gave oral testimony, while judges called one witness, whose name they said had been repeatedly mentioned by both defense and prosecution witnesses but none of the parties had asked him to testify.
In their ruling, judges also asked parties to the trial to provide views on whether, if Mr. Bemba were found guilty, the verdict and the sentence should be issued in a single judgement or addressed in separate decisions.
Mr. Bemba has been on trial in The Hague since November 2010 over alleged failure to control his Movement for the Liberation of Congo troops who were deployed in the Central African Republic during 2002 and 2003. Although he was not personally present in the conflict country, prosecutors allege that as commander-in-chief, he had the means to know that his troops were committing rape, murder, and pillaging, but he neither stopped nor punished them.
The last witness to testify for the defense appeared last November. The same month, the prosecution announced charges of forging evidence and bribing witnesses against Mr. Bemba, his lead defense lawyer Aimé Kilolo-Musamba and case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo. Two other individuals, including a Member of Parliament in Congo and a Central African national who was on Mr. Bemba’s witness list but never testified, were charged with the same offenses.
The new charges slowed down the trial. With two leading members of the defense team under arrest, Mr. Bemba was faced with a legal representation dilemma. His lawyers sought to put an end to the new case, to bar prosecutors from contacting their witness, and to end the monitoring of privileged defense communications.
Mr. Bemba has been in the court’s custody since 2008. Upon clarification by his current Anglophone defense team on the need for French translations, the chamber will issue a decision on the schedule for the submission of the defense closing brief, related replies, and the presentation of final oral submissions.
The accused is expected to make an unsworn statement as part of the defense’s closing statements.