Judes Mbetingou, the second victim to testify in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba, today recalled the widespread pillaging and rape committed by soldiers belonging to the accused’s militia in the town of Sibut in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Stating that the residents of the town “will never forget what they were subjected to,” Mr. Mbetingou told the trial that Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops arrived in Sibut on February 24, 2003, at 1:00p.m.
Upon arrival, the Congolese soldiers proceeded to indiscriminately loot the possessions from the town’s inhabitants. “They wreaked havoc everywhere,” recalled Mr. Mbetingou, whose property was also grabbed by the rampaging soldiers.
“Besides looting of possessions of inhabitants, are you aware of anything else the Banyamulenge [Congolese soldiers] did in Sibut?” asked the victim’s lawyer, Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson.
“There were several cases of rape of girls of 10 years of age,” he replied. He said one woman would be raped by up to 20 soldiers, and some of the women who were assaulted died as a result. However, he was unable to state the number of women subjected to the assaults.
“The girls were ashamed to state that they had been raped by the Banyamulenge. They were afraid of being stigmatized,” he explained. He said he became aware of these incidents when he saw girls running around naked.
Mr. Mbetingou said Mr. Bemba’s soldiers claimed they had been sent to “liberate” the town from rebel forces led by François Bozizé, who were believed to be based there. He said the rebels were no longer in Sibut when the MLC arrived, and their arrival simply brought “panic to the town.”
Sibut is one of the Central African towns in which prosecutors charge that the MLC fighters, without proper military training and unaware of their group’s code of conduct, brutalized civilians during that country’s 2002-2003 armed conflict. At the time, rebel forces led by the country’s current president, Mr. Bozizé, were fighting the regime of then president Ange-Félix Patassé.
Mr. Patassé invited the Congolese troops to reinforce his loyalist forces. Mr. Bemba has been on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) court since November 2010 and denies the five charges against him, which stem from his alleged failure to stop or to punish his soldiers who prosecutors claim carried out rapes, killings, and pillaging.
Meanwhile, earlier today, Pulchérie Makiandakama, the first victim to take the witness stand in the trial, completed giving testimony. Ms. Makiandakama, whose testimony started on Tuesday, has told the court that she was twice gang-raped by soldiers belonging to the accused’s militia. She described pillaging and murder in the Mongoumba locality. Mr. Bemba’s defense has highlighted numerous inconsistencies between her in-court testimony and her statements recorded by court officials in 2010.
Mr. Mbetingou continues to testify tomorrow morning.