28 February 2012

Congo-Kinshasa: Scheduling Difficulties Stall Bemba Trial

This week, the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has stalled with the postponement of a status conference and further delay in the start of the testimony of the last witness to be called by the prosecution. A date for resumption of hearings has not been fixed.

A status conference at which Mr. Bemba's defense was expected to state when it would commence its case, the number of witnesses it would call, and the estimated duration its case would take, earlier scheduled for this afternoon is now expected to take place the week of March 12.

According to the judges, the testimony of the last prosecution witness going by the pseudonym 'Witness 36â-' has also been postponed once again "due to scheduling difficulties." They did not say what these difficulties were. This witness was scheduled to commence testifying last Wednesday via video link from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Last week, court officials said it was not possible for 'Witness 36' to begin testifying on the dates previously set, as he was not available. This witness sustained injuries last July that rendered it necessary for him to testify from Congo rather than from the courtroom in The Hague, according to prosecutors.

Meanwhile, in a February 24, 2012 ruling, judges granted a request by Mr. Bemba's defense to postpone the status conference until the week beginning March 12, 2012. The defense sought to postpone the status conference as they had a "pre-arranged mission." The defense stated that it would be "difficult" for it to obtain information to assist the chamber accurately prepare for the presentation of its evidence if the status conference were to take place before the start of March.

The prosecution case opened in November 2010, and so far 39 prosecution witnesses have testified against the former Congolese vice president. He is charged with failing to stop or punish his Movement for the Liberation of Congo soldiers who allegedly carried out rape, killings, and pillaging during 2002 and 2003. The alleged crimes were committed in the Central African Republic.

In the meantime, judges have instructed the defense to provide to the chamber, the prosecution, and victims' legal representatives, information on:

The estimated amount of time required by the defense to prepare its presentation of evidence;

The stage reached by the defense in its investigations;

The anticipated number of witnesses to be called by the defense;

A preliminary estimate of the amount of time needed for the presentation of its evidence by the defense, including an estimate of the time needed for questioning;

Whether protective measures may be required for the witnesses to be called by the defense;

Whether the defense intends to call expert witnesses;

Whether, on a preliminary basis, a decision has been made as to whether the accused will testify;

The reclassification of the defense's "Filing on Preliminary Information on the Defense Case" of December 14, 2011; and

Any other matters the defense wishes to be discussed at the status conference on the scheduling and preparation of the presentation of evidence by the defense.

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