21 February 2013

Congo-Kinshasa: Bemba Trial to Resume Monday With Protected Defence Witness

Arusha — The trial of Congolese senator and former vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba is due to resume Monday with the testimony by video link of a protected witness for the defence.

Bemba is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes for abuses committed by his troops in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. Bemba's MLC party, now one of the biggest opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was at that time a much smaller politico-military movement. MLC fighters had been sent to the aid of the CAR president of the time, Ange-Félix Patassé, who was fighting a rebellion led by the current CAR president François Bozizé.

According to case law already established by international criminal courts, a civil or military leader can be held responsible for crimes committed by his or her subordinates if s/he did nothing to prevent or punish the crimes. Bemba does not deny that his men murdered, raped and pillaged in the CAR. However, he argues that from his headquarters in Gbadolite, DRC, he could not control what they did in another country. He could not have known they were going to commit crimes, nor prevented this happening, according to the defence. Bemba argues that his troops were under Patassé's command at the time.

The trial has been suspended several times because of defence difficulties in bringing witnesses to the Court, especially those living in the CAR and DRC. The defence started presenting its case on August 14, 2012, and has so far brought 15 witnesses. Others are scheduled to testify after witness D04-19, who is scheduled to start Monday.

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