By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The hearings in The International Criminal Court (ICC) trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba will resume on Monday, February 25.
Bemba, the former leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, was charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes and has been in ICC custody since 2008. Bemba was accused of failing to stop his troops from committing mass rape, murder, and pillage during the 2002-2003 conflict in the Central African Republic.
ICC judges ordered a temporary suspension to the hearings last December until March 4, 2013. The suspension was necessary to allow Bemba’s lawyers to prepare additional evidence in light of a possible “legal re-characterization” of the charges.
Last year, the defense counsel argued that a possible modification of the charges will be prejudicial to their client unless the court gives them an extension. According to Bemba’s lawyers, changing the charges will require them to prepare additional evidence which they may not be able to carry out due to lack of resources, insufficient time, and lack of “valid, prompt and legally adequate notification” by the judges. Thus, on December 13, 2012, ICC Judges Sylvia Steiner, Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki issued a temporary suspension order in Bemba’s favor invoking the court’s power to “suspend [a] hearing and ensure that the participants have adequate time and facilities for effective preparation”.
On February 6, the ICC judges lifted the suspension and scheduled Witness D04-19 to testify via video link. However, the defense filed a request to be present at the actual location of Witness D04-19 which the prosecution opposed.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda contended that the presence of defense lawyers at the location where the witness would give evidence from was “unnecessary” and would “provide a distinct advantage to the defense during questioning.”
“Without knowing the defense’s particular justification, it is difficult to imagine any good reason to depart from this [common] procedure and allow the defense to be present with the witness while the prosecution and the chamber remain in The Hague,” said Bensouda.
Bensouda also argued that the ICC judges’ power to control and oversee the proceedings would be “diminished” if they allowed the defense’s request. According to her, they will not be able to monitor “the events between the defense team and the witness that might occur off-camera.”
In their February 15 ruling, the judges sided with the prosecution stating that “it is not necessary for members of the defense team to be authorized to question the witness from the location of the video-link.” The ICC judges also explained that it has been common practice in The Hague to place video link witnesses in a remote location unknown to both parties.
For further information, please see:
All Africa – Congo-Kinshasa: Bemba Trial to Resume Monday With Protected Defence Witness – 21 February 2013
Zapaday – ICC resumes trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba early following defense request – 20 February 2013
All Africa – Central African Republic: Bemba Trial Hearings Resume Next Week – 19 February 2013
Bemba Trial – Status Conference Discusses Bemba’s Upcoming Witness – 11 February 2013
All Africa – Congo-Kinshasa: Judges Suspend Bemba’s ICC Trial Hearings Until March 2013 – 19 December 2012