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Closing Arguments in Bemba Trial Set For October

Trial judges have set an October 2014 date for the closing arguments in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In a May 26 ruling, judges Sylvia Steiner, Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki also decided that should Mr. Bemba be found guilty, they would issue separate decision on his sentence.

In the event of a conviction, the prosecution, the defense, and victims’ lawyer will file written requests to submit further evidence or to call witnesses, including any requests for protective measures for the witnesses, within two weeks of the issuance of the judgment.

Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been on trial in The Hague since November 2010. He is accused of failing to stop and to punish soldiers from his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) militia who allegedly committed rape, murder, and pillaging.

He denies the charges, stating that he was not present in the Central African Republic (CAR) when the alleged crimes were being committed and that he lacked the means to command those troops or to punish them in a timely manner because he was stationed in Congo.

Mr. Bemba, whose fighters reportedly committed the crimes in the CAR where they had gone to defend then president Ange-Félix Patassé against a coup attempt, was arrested in Belgium in May 2008 before being transferred to The Hague.

Judges have ordered the defense to file its closing brief by August 25, after which the prosecution and victims’ lawyer will file responses by September 8. The defense will then file its reply by September 22, 2014.

Last month, judges directed the prosecution and the victims’ lawyer to file their closing briefs by June 2. The deadline for the defense to make its closing brief was not given at the time.

During the course of the trial, the prosecution called 40 witnesses while the defense had 34 witnesses. Two victims gave oral testimony, while judges called one witness. The evidence admitted in the case consists of transcripts from the testimony of 77 witnesses and 704 items of documentary evidence.

The last witness testified in November 2013, but the trial slowed because that same month prosecutors brought new charges of bribing witnesses and forging evidence against Mr. Bemba. His lead defense counsel Aime Kilolo-Musamba, case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, and two other aides face similar charges. The case is before a pre-trial judge.