International Criminal Court (ICC) judges have extended the deadline for Jean-Pierre Bemba's lawyers to conclude the presentation of their evidence to November 15. The two-week extension will allow for two of three outstanding witnesses to testify.
In a November 1, 2013 ruling, judges Sylvia Steiner (presiding), Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki considered it "appropriate" to grant a limited extension, given continuous efforts by the court's registry to secure the appearance of 'Witness D04-14' and 'Witness D04-44.'
The judges noted that the delay in completing arrangements for their appearance was due to "continuous additional requests" made by the witnesses and the defense concerning the conditions of these individuals' appearance. According to the judges, the additional requests required the registry to seek third party intervention and further administrative steps to be taken.
'Witness D04-41' - the third outstanding individual on the defense witness list - is no longer expected to testify, after the registry failed to establish contact with him, said the judges. They instructed the registry to desist from taking any further measures to contact this witness.
The initial deadline set for the defense to conclude the presentation of its evidence was October 25, 2013. However, due to undisclosed difficulties encountered in getting witnesses to appear before the court, an additional week was granted to the defense to call one more witness - 'Witness D04-54' - who testified last week.
The defense case opened in August 2012. Initially, Mr. Bemba's lawyers intended to call 63 witnesses to testify for the former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who is on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
However, due to difficulties in getting them to travel to The Hague or to appear remotely by video link, the defense cut down its list of witnesses. So far, 33 individuals have testified for Mr. Bemba.
Mr. Bemba denies that his Movement for the Liberation of Congo soldiers brutalized civilians in the Central African Republic during 2002 and 2003. The Congolese troops went into the neighboring country to assist its then president Ange-Félix Patassé fight off a rebel uprising.
It is not clear when the next defense witness will start testifying.