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Recalled Witness in Bemba Trial to Testify in Closed Session

All testimony by a prosecution witness who was recalled by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges to give evidence on issues of witness credibility in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba will be heard in closed session.

“The testimony of Witness 169 will be heard in full closed session,” announced Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner at the start of hearings this morning. The witness is scheduled to testify over three days until Friday 24.

Judge Steiner explained that the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) conducted a security assessment to determine if the protective measures that were in place for the witness during his initial appearance before the court should remain in force. Based on the assessment, judges did not consider it necessary to alter the measures.

‘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.

Earlier this month, judges ordered the temporary reopening of the presentation of evidence in the trial. They considered that “exceptional circumstances” warranted the recall of ‘Witness 169’ as a chamber witness. The order came after the disclosure of several letters the witness sent to the Office of the Prosecutor and the VWU. In the letters, which date back from 2011 through to 2014, he refers to outstanding payment claims and “money promised by the prosecutor for witnesses.”

In the most recent letter sent on August 5, 2014, ‘Witness 169’ reportedly stated that he possessed evidence of corruption and ill-treatment of prosecution witnesses. He also reportedly mentioned “money transferred by the ICC prosecution for the benefit of witnesses.”

An October 8, 2014 decision on the modalities for presentation of his evidence indicates that judges would question him first, followed by the prosecution and victims’ lawyers. Lastly, the defense will question the witness.

Judges directed that questions put to the witness should be “neutral, non-leading” and focus only on the allegations contained in the August 2014 letter, unless otherwise authorized.

Mr. Bemba, 51, is on trial at the ICC over the rape, murder, and pillaging allegedly carried out by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo troops against civilians of the Central African Republic during 2002 and 2003. The former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo has pleaded not guilty to all five charges against him. His trial commenced in November 2010.