25 February 2013

Central African Republic: Bemba Trial in Closed Session At Restart of Hearings

Hearings in Jean-Pierre Bemba's trial resumed today, but proceedings were held entirely in closed session. In fact, according to the schedule published by the International Criminal Court (ICC), all of this week's hearings will be conducted in closed session.

While the majority of prosecution and defense witnesses have testified pseudo anonymously with their faces concealed from the public, some have been heard by members of the public. However, the voices of these witnesses have been distorted in order to keep their identities secret. A small number of defense witnesses have given their evidence entirely in closed session.

According to the court's hearing program, all evidence by 'Witness D04-19' - who is scheduled to testify for five days this week via video link from an undisclosed location - will be heard in closed session. This individual is the 15th witness to testify for the former Congolese vice president at the court based in The Hague. Mr. Bemba's lawyers have said they will call 63 witnesses with "tangible knowledge" of the events of October 2002 to March 2003, when the accused's soldiers were deployed in the Central African Republic.

Prosecutors charge that Mr. Bemba is criminally responsible as military commander of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) for the brutalities his troops allegedly committed against Central African civilians. The prosecution's case opened in November 2010 and over a 16 months period, 40 witnesses took the witness stand. Mr. Bemba has pleaded not guilty to two crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging).

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