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Bemba case
Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was the president and commander-in-chief of the “Mouvement de Libération du Congo” (MLC) and is the former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). On 15 June 2009 ICC Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) II confirmed charges of crimes against humanity (rape and murder) and war crimes (rape, murder and pillaging) against Bemba, sending his case to trial. The trial began on 22 November 2010 and is ongoing.

The Bemba case has been allocated to Trial Chamber (TC) III which is responsible for the conduct of trial proceedings. TC III is composed of Judge Joyce Aluoch, Judge Sylvia Steiner, and Judge Kuniko Ozaki.

Arrest warrants issued
On 23 May 2008, PTC III issued a sealed warrant of arrest for Bemba, which was unsealed on 24 May 2008. It contained three counts of crimes against humanity (rape; torture; and murder) as well as five counts of war crimes (rape; torture; outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; and pillage of a town or place).

On 24 May 2008, Bemba was arrested by Belgian authorities for crimes allegedly committed in the CAR from 26 October 2002 to 15 March 2003. On 3 July 2008, he was transferred by Belgian authorities to the Court’s detention centre in The Hague.

First appearance
On 4 July 2008, Bemba appeared for the first time before the judges of PTC III. During this hearing, the Chamber verified the identity of the suspect and ensured that he was clearly informed of the charges brought against him and of his rights under the Rome Statute, including the right to apply for interim release pending trial.

Pre-trial confirmation of charges
Bemba’s confirmation of charges hearing was initially scheduled to commence on 4 November 2008 but was postponed twice. On 29 December 2008, the hearing was set for 12 January 2009. A confirmation of charges hearing was held on 12-15 January 2009; the purpose of the hearing was for the judges to determine whether there were substantial grounds to believe that Bemba committed the charges brought by ICC prosecutor and whether the charges should therefore be confirmed and the case sent to trial.

Initially, the Chamber had indicated that the decision on the confirmation of charges would be delivered 60 days after 26 January 2009. However, on 3 March 2009, judges requested the prosecution to consider submitting an amended document containing the charges addressing another mode of criminal liability other than individual criminal responsibility under Artciule 25 Rome Statute. On 30 March 2009, the Office of the Prosecutor submitted an amended document containing the charges including command or superior responsibility (pursuant to Art 28 of the Rome Statute ) as an alternative to, not in substitution of, individual criminal responsibility (Art 25 (3)(a) of the RS).

PTC II issued its decision on 15 June 2009 and sent Bemba’s case to trial. The Chamber confirmed two counts of crimes against humanity (rape and murder) and three counts of war crimes (rape, murder and pillaging). The Chamber declined to confirm the charges of torture as a crime against humanity and as a war crime as well as the count of outrages upon personal dignity as a war crime, which were originally charged by the prosecution. The crimes were allegedly committed in the CAR from 26 October 2002 to 15 March 2003. The judges confirmed that Bemba would be criminally responsible as a commander (pursuant to article 28(a) of the Rome Statute) and not individually (article 25) or as a superior(article 28(b)).

The Bemba trial opened on 22 November 2010 before ICC Trial Chamber (TC) III. The trial had initially been scheduled to start on 14 July 2010 but was postponed due to a pending appeal on admissibility in the case. However, on 19 October 2010, the ICC Appeals Chamber dismissed Bemba’s appeal against the decision on the admissibility of his case and TC III set the trial’s opening for 22 November 2010.

On 6 June 2011, the defense filed an application for the accused's provisional release during Court recesses and periods when the Chamber does not sit for at least three consecutive days, including long weekends. On 26 September 2011, TC III rejected Bemba’s application for provisional release.

In March 2012, the prosecution finished its presentation of 40 witnesses. The defence is set to present a similar number of witnesses.

On 15 December 2011, TC III authorized 404 additional victims to participate in the case, bringing the total number to 2,287.

On 26 February 2012, Nkwebe Liriss, Bemba’s lead counsel passed away after a long illness.

On 20 March 2012, the last of 40 prosecution witnesses was presented. On 1 May 2012, participating victims began giving evidence, 5 victim witnesses will give evidence (3 via video link).

On 14 August 2012, Bemba’s defense team commenced the presentation of its evidence and called its first witnesses. Around 50 individuals are expected to be called to testify in Bemba’s defense.

Proceedings were suspended for three weeks in September and October 2012 due to the disappearance and non-appearance of two witnesses. On 2 October 2012, a status conference was held to address a number of resulting witness issues.

On 13 December 2012, TC III decided to suspend the trial until 4 March 2013 to allow the defense to prepare for a possible legal re-characterization of facts by the judges. TC III had indicated that an element of Bemba’s criminal responsibility as a commander derived from ‘knowing that crimes were being committed’, may be changed to that he ‘should have known that crimes were being committed’. Between August and December 2012, the defense called 15 witnesses to testify, however one did not appear as scheduled.

On 25 February 2013, the defense case resumed. Several witnesses have to date testified in closed proceedings via video link.

On 5 June 2013, the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba resumed following three weeks of interruption due to the non-availability of witnesses after the defense had removed 13 witnesses from its list. The latest testifying witnesses have all had protective measures in place.

On 16 July 2013, Trial Chamber (TC) III decided that the defense in the trial of Jean Pierre Bemba should conclude its presentation of evidence by 25 October 2013.

In November 2013, the defense concluded the presentation of its case in the trial. Thirty-two defense witnesses testified for the defense in total. Two additional witnesses were called by the judges as they had been repeatedly mentioned by other witnesses throughout the trial have also completed their testimony.

The oral closing arguments in the Bemba case will be heard by 13 October 2014.

Suspects appear before judges on witness interference charges
In late November 2013 and early 2014, four suspects arrested on suspicion of presenting false or forged evidence and bribed witnesses in the Bemba trial made their first appearances before PTC II. Bemba has also appeared before the Chamber charged with the same crimes.

In November 2013, authorities in the Netherlands, France, Belgium and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) arrested Aimé Kilolo-Musamba, Bemba’s lead defense counsel; Jean-Jaques Mangenda Kabongo, also part of Bemba’s defense team; Fidèle Babala Wandu, a member of the DRC parliament and deputy secretary general of Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo; and Narcisse Arido, a defense witness in the case.

Pre-Trial Chamber II has set a calendar for expeditious proceedings leading to the confirmation of charges decision (on whether or not to send the case to trial), that will be rendered in writing. Both the prosecution and defense have filed written confirmation of charges submissions.

On 11 July 2014 the Appeals Chamber dismissed, by majority, the appeals of Aimé Kilolo Musamba, Fidèle Babala Wandu and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo against the decisions of Pre-Trial Chamber II of 14 and 17 March 2014 rejecting their requests for interim release.

On 14 August 2009, PTC II decided to grant interim release to Bemba. The implementation of this decision was deferred pending a determination of the country and the conditions of his interim release. The prosecutor subsequently appealed the decision and such appeal was given suspensive effect, meaning that the accused would not leave detention until an appeals decision would be made. On 2 December 2009, the ICC Appeals Chamber reversed the decision of PTC II on the interim release, and Bemba remained in custody.

On 6 June 2011, the defense filed an application for the accused's provisional release during Court recesses and periods when the Chamber does not sit for at least three consecutive days, including long weekends. On 26 September 2011, TC III rejected this application.
NGO Media Statements
Author Date and Title
Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice
11 Nov 2014
Ground-breaking case for the ICC reaches closing stages
30 Nov 2010
CAR Authorities Must Arrest Al-Bashir or Bar Him Entry in the Country
22 Nov 2010
Bemba Trial Opens in The Hague
22 Nov 2010
ICC: Trial Opens for Congo's Ex-Vice President
Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice
22 Nov 2010
CICC Press briefing on the opening of the Bemba trial: Statement by Brigid Inder, Executive Director, Women’s Initiatives
20 Nov 2010
Communiqué de la Coalition centrafricaine pour la CPI à l’occasion de l’ouverture du procès Bemba
18 Nov 2010
Opening of the Trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba: The Self-Sacrifice and Courage of Central African Victims Finally Rewarded