International Criminal Court (ICC) judges have reopened the presentation of evidence in Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial in order to hear the testimony of a prosecution witness on issues of witness credibility.
‘Witness 169’ is expected to testify at the seat of the court in The Hague on October 14, 2014 on alleged collusion between prosecution witnesses that may impact the probative value or credibility of their testimony and promises made or benefits provided by the prosecution in exchange for their testimony.
According to an October 2, 2014 notice, judges Sylvia Steiner (presiding), Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki decided to recall this witness following a request by the defense after the prosecution disclosed a document related to this witness. The defense had sought the recall of ‘Witness 169’ and ‘Witness 178.’
‘Witness 169’ was the 25th witness called by prosecutors in the Bemba trial. He gave evidence in July 2011 and all of his testimony was heard in closed session. At the time, prosecutors stated that he was an “important witness,” who would provide evidence that the court had not heard before. For his part, ‘Witness 178’ testified about the ethnic composition of Mr. Bemba’s troops and recounted their arrival in the 2002–2003 armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR). ‘Witness 178′ gave testimony for several days in late August and early September 2011.
In the application to recall the two witnesses, defense lawyer Peter Haynes mentioned that during the testimony of a separate prosecution witness in February 2011, court heard that an individual who had represented himself as an official of the ICC was complicit in falsifying victims’ application forms.
According to the defense, on April 19, 2013, a meeting was apparently held between ‘Witness 169,’ the prosecution, and the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU). At this meeting, said the defense, participants discussed the payment to the witness of a number of fees and allowances.
In June the same year, added the defense, a meeting was held between ‘Witness 169’ and VWU, at which the VWU apparently agreed to pay certain sums of money to the witness.
Mr. Haynes stated that although the witness wrote to the ICC prosecutor in June 2013 mentioning his name and court number and referring to “the money promised by the prosecutor for witnesses,” this information was never disclosed to the defense. The defense petition, which is highly redacted, seems to indicate that similar payments were made to various other prosecution witnesses.
The defense stated that the prosecution only informed judges of the issues related to the two witnesses last October – four months after the prosecution appears to have known about the letters and claims by ‘Witness 169.’
Furthermore, Mr. Haynes argued that the prosecution’s obligation to disclose exculpatory material and information material for the preparation of the defense is ongoing. He argued that simply because a witness has completed his testimony before the chamber does not relieve the prosecution of its burden to disclose material relevant to the credibility of the witness or which may affect the credibility of prosecution evidence.
The defense contends that the material in question strongly suggests a “financial interest in testifying” by at least six prosecution witnesses and collusion between them.
Mr. Bemba has been on trial at the ICC since November 2010 on charges of rape, murder, and pillaging arising from his alleged failure to control his Movement for the Liberation of Congo soldiers, who prosecutors claim brutalized civilians during their deployment in the CAR. He denies all five charges against him.
Final oral submissions in the trial have been rescheduled to the week of November 10, 2014.