Arusha, November 6, 2013 (FH) – After twice putting back the date, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has set November 15 for the last defence witness to finish testifying in the case of Congolese Senator Jean-Pierre Bemba.

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The Congolese opposition politician, who started presenting his defence in August 2012, is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003.

In its decision, the ICC gave him until November 15 to bring his last two witnesses, who both have codenames to protect their identity.

In the same decision, which is available on the ICC website, the court excluded another protected witness whom the ICC administration has not managed to contact despite numerous efforts.

Bemba has already brought 33 witnesses, of whom the last one testified last week. That testimony was held entirely behind closed doors, after the witness said he feared for his security.

The ICC judges had to put back two previous deadlines (July 19, and then October 25) for the defence to wrap up its witness testimony. The last deadline could not be met because of difficulties bringing the last four defence witnesses.

Once his witnesses have finished testifying, Bemba will have the opportunity to address the court himself for up to one hour and will not be cross-questioned. No date has yet been set for such a hearing.

The court has also decided on its own initiative that after Bemba’s declaration, it will call two witnesses who have been frequently cited in previous testimony.

Bemba, a former Congolese vice-president, has been on trial since November 2010. He is charged in connection with abuses committed in the CAR in 2002 and 2003 by fighters from his former rebel movement, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). The MLC is now one of the main parties in opposition to President Joseph Kabila. MLC troops had been sent to help the CAR president of the day Ange-Félix Patassé, who was facing a rebellion.

The Prosecutor argues that Bemba is guilty because he did not prevent the crimes committed by his MLC forces in the CAR, nor punish the perpetrators of these grave violations of international humanitarian law.

Bemba argues that from his headquarters in Gbadolite, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it was not possible for him to control troops that had been sent as reinforcements to the other side of the border.