31 October 2012

Central African Republic: Tenth Defense Witness Concludes Testimony in Closed Session

This afternoon, the tenth witness called by the defense of war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba concluded his testimony in closed session. Nearly all of the evidence given by 'Witness D0-55' has been heard in closed session since he took the witness stand on Monday.

During testimony yesterday, 'Witness D04-55' denied suggestions by prosecutors that defense lawyers may have coached him on what to say in court. "They didn't tell me the account I had to give the chamber. Nobody can prepare me for what I have to say," said the witness. However, none of his substantive evidence was heard in open court.

Mr. Bemba's trial at the court based in The Hague opened in November 2010 and saw prosecutors call 40 witnesses in support of their case. The defense case started in August 2012 and so far ten out of the proposed 64 defense witnesses have testified.

Mr. Bemba is charged with two crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging) at the International Criminal Court. The crimes were allegedly committed by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) military group in the Central African Republic (CAR) between October 26, 2002 and March 15, 2003.

The former Congolese senator has acknowledged that his troops went to the neighboring country during this period to help the CAR's then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, stave off a coup attempt. However, he has denied the crimes he is accused of, arguing that once the troops crossed from Congolese territory they were under the command of Mr. Patassé. Besides, he contends that any of the other armed groups active in the conflict could have committed the alleged crimes.

Before adjourning this afternoon, Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner announced that the court is "facing difficulties in avoiding gaps" between the testimony of upcoming witnesses. Judge Steiner ordered the Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) to liaise with the defense team in order to ensure the appearance of the next available witness on Monday November 5, 2012, when the trial is scheduled to resume.

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