A military expert from the French army will be the first witness called in the defense case of war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba, which opens at the International Criminal Court (ICC) tomorrow. The defense has lined up 63 witnesses, relative to the 40 called by prosecutors.
According to lead defense counsel Aime Kilolo-Musamba, the expert will testify about command and control in military operations. He is expected to specifically speak on the issue of whether Mr. Bemba had command and control over his troops deployed in an armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) during 2002 and 2003.
While prosecutors charge that the accused was in direct control and full command of his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops who were on the battlefront, he denies this, countering that it was Central African generals who commanded his soldiers deployed in the conflict country. Mr. Bemba, who has been in court custody for four years, has been on trial since November 2010 for failing to stop or to punish his soldiers, who allegedly committed rapes and murders and looted from Central African civilians.
The defense has not stated whether Mr. Bemba will testify in his own defense. His countryman Thomas Lubanga, who ICC judges found guilty last March of using children in armed conflict, chose not to take the witness stand. However, two other Congolese nationals who have been jointly tried at the court based in The Hague, Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, gave extensive oral testimonies in their own defense.
Mr. Kilolo-Musamba told the bembatrial.org website that besides the military expert, they had also lined up a geo-political expert, a linguistics expert, and soldiers who served with the Central African Army (FACA) as well as that country's Presidential Guard that goes by the acronym USP. Among all the Central African army units, it was the USP that worked closely with the Congolese soldiers at the time of the conflict. Furthermore, the defense will call MLC insiders, both civilian and military, who were familiar with the workings of the group during 2002 and 2003.
Another group of witnesses will be victims of the crimes committed by armed groups, who Mr. Kilolo-Musamba said would identify the key perpetrators as members of Francois Bozizé's rebel force. The defense will also call former Bozizé fighters involved in the fight against the MLC, "who will explain themselves the kind of crimes that were being committed among them."
Mr. Bozize led the 2002-2003 uprising against the regime of president Ange-Félix Patassé, capturing power in March of 2003. He remains president of the CAR. Mr. Patassé, who invited the Bemba troops into the conflict, passed away in April 2011.
The defense case is scheduled to begin Tuesday, August 14, 2012, at 9:30am.