Trial judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have suspended for three weeks the deadlines for filing of pending submissions by parties and participants in the ongoing trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba.
The period coincides with the winter recess of the ICC that falls between December 14, 2013 and January 5, 2014. Furthermore, Mr. Bemba's defense has been short-handed after two senior members of the defense team were arrested last month.
"Taking into account the exceptional circumstances that have arisen from the recent events related to the Bemba case, and their impact on the situation of the defense team, the chamber considers that a suspension of any relevant time limits during the 2013-2014 winter judicial recess is warranted," read a December 6 order by judges.
Aimé Kilolo-Musamba, the lead defense counsel, and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, the defense case manager are currently in court detention over allegations of witness tampering and presenting false or forged evidence in the trial.
Similar charges have been brought against Mr. Bemba, Fidèle Babala Wandu, a member of parliament in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Narcisse Arido, a defense witness.
Presentation of oral evidence in the trial that commenced in November 2010 concluded last month. Judges are yet to issue a decision formally declaring the presentation of evidence in the case as closed. It is expected that the decision will be issued once the chamber has decided on the admissibility of all material submitted by the parties as evidence.
Thereafter, timeframes for the submission of closing briefs and presentation of final oral statements would apply. According to a timetable set by judges in July, the prosecution and legal representatives of victims would file their closing briefs within eight weeks of the formal conclusion of the presentation of evidence. The defense's closing brief would be filed in the following 12 weeks.
Thereafter, the prosecution and victims' lawyers would have two weeks to respond to the defense's closing brief. The defense would then have two weeks to make a last response. Final oral submissions would be presented two weeks after the filing of this response by the defense.
Judges have authorized Mr. Bemba to make an unsworn statement as part of the defense's closing statement. He will not be questioned by any party to the trial when he makes his statement.
The five charges against Mr. Bemba stem from his Movement for the Liberation of Congo troops' intervention in an armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR). In October 2002, the country's then president Ange-Félix Patassé sought the assistance of Congolese troops in beating back an armed insurgency. At the time, the MLC were a rebel movement fighting against the Congolese government.
Mr. Bemba, their commander-in-chief has denied charges by ICC prosecutors that he failed to stop or punish his ill-trained soldiers who allegedly raped, murdered, and pillaged civilians during their deployment in the neighboring country.