10 December 2012

Central African Republic: Bemba Hearings Cancelled This Week

This week's hearings in the war crimes trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) were today cancelled due to the unavailability of witnesses. The court was previously scheduled to sit all of this week.

Last Tuesday, after the completion of testimony by the 14th defense witness, lead defense counsel Aimé Kilolo-Musamba stated that they were unsure when their next witness would be available to testify. He said the names of their next scheduled witnesses had been handed to the court's Registry to organize their travel to The Hague. However, the witnesses were not ready to start their testimony.

In a court order issued on December 7, 2012, Judges Sylvia Steiner (presiding), Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki granted a request by the defense to convene a status conference to "discuss the most efficient and effective way of proceeding to ensure the uninterrupted flow of witnesses in the new year." The status conference, to be attended by the defense, representatives of the Victims' and Witnesses Unit (VWU), and the Registry, will be held in closed session tomorrow morning.

Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is on trial at the ICC over the rape, murder, and pillaging allegedly committed against civilians in the Central African Republic by members of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, the group he led. The crimes were allegedly committed between October 2002 and March 2003. He has denied all five charges against him in the trial that commenced in November 2010.

Due to difficulties of defense witnesses to travel to the court in The Hague, judges are exploring the possibility of hearing the testimony of a number of witnesses via video link, or in situ at the seat of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha,Tanzania.

A date for the resumption of hearings is yet to be fixed. The court goes into its winter recess this Friday, December 14, which will last until January 2, 2013.

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