22 June 2012

Central Africa: Three Victims to Address Bemba Trial Next Week

Three victims authorized by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges to express their views and concerns to the trial of the former vice president of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, are scheduled to address the court next week.

In the order authorizing the three to address the trial, judges said these victims' views would not form part of the evidence. Moreover, victims a/0542/08, a/0394/08, and a/0511/08 would not be questioned by parties to the trial. Rather, their legal representatives would guide them through their presentations. "Any statement that they provide will not be given under oath," the judges ruled.

Last March, judges Sylvia Steiner (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Joyce Aluoch authorized two victims to provide oral testimony in court while three others were granted leave to express their views and concerns in person through means to be determined by the chamber. Last month, the first two victims gave oral, in-court testimony.

Starting Monday next week, the three victims will address the trial via video link presumably from the Central African Republic (CAR). According to judges, each victim's presentation will not exceed one hearing day.

Court documents show that Victim a/0542/08 is a victim of pillage and rape allegedly carried out by Mr. Bemba's soldiers in the Central African town of Bossangoa. Victim a/0394/08, a victim of pillage in Damara town, is expected to address court about the crimes of murder and rape. Victim a/0511/08 was injured by a gunshot reportedly fired by the accused's soldiers, and he was an eyewitness to the murder of his mother.

Mr. Bemba is accused of failing to stop or punish his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops that were deployed in the 2002-2003 conflict in the neighboring country. Prosecutors charge that the Congolese soldiers' progression in various towns was marked with widespread looting, murder, and rape. As their commander-in-chief, Mr. Bemba is being held accountable for the alleged crimes. He denies the charges.

Meanwhile, a further 1,377 victims have been granted permission to participate in the proceedings against Mr. Bemba. In a May 21, 2012 ruling, judges accepted all but 16 of 1,400 new applications. The judges deferred their decision on one application and the rest of the applications were withdrawn since they were "duplicates." This brings the total number of victims participating in the trial to 4,121.

Mr. Bemba's defense had requested judges to reject all 1,400 applications arguing that it "challenges the casual link between the harm suffered and the location of MLC troops at the relevant time." Furthermore, the defense asserted that certain applications were incomplete and questioned the credibility of identity documents and the accounts provided by the applicants.

The prosecution submitted that 1,208 of the 1,400 applications met all the requirements for participation in the trial under Article 68(3) of the Rome Statute "on account of crimes they personally suffered, but should be invited to provide further information or documentation with regard to crimes allegedly suffered by their family members." The prosecution asked judges to defer their decision on 85 applications until further information was provided.

The individuals granted participating status in the latest ruling were victims of crimes allegedly committed in the localities of Bangui, PK 12, Damara, Sibut, Boali, Bossembélé, Bossangoa, Bozoum, and Mongoumba.

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