In his last day of testimony, a former insider in the group led by war crimes indictee Jean-Pierre Bemba stated that in a bid to popularize their military code of conduct, the code was produced in the Congolese language Lingala and in French.
“Rules of discipline were drafted in French, but for purposes of getting the soldiers to memorize it, the document was translated,” stated the witness, who started testifying in Mr. Bemba’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday. In addition to using an in-court pseudonym, public broadcasts of his testimony had his image and voice distorted in order to conceal his identity.
In his earlier testimony, ‘Witness D04-49’ stated that soldiers belonging to the accused’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) group were “very well” trained and that the training included military discipline and respect for the code of conduct, which was considered a bible for the group.
This afternoon, Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson, a lawyer representing victims participating in the trial, asked the witness in what language the training exercises were undertaken.
“It was Lingala,” responded ‘Witness D04-49.’ He reiterated that soldiers and senior commanders respected the code of conduct at all times, even during the group’s deployment in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002-2003.
According to the witness, incidents of misconduct by soldiers during operations in the neighboring country were reported and the responsible individuals were arrested by CAR authorities and sent back to the Congo to face punishment.
“The fact that they were under Central African operational control during the mission did not mean they were no longer Congolese. Investigations were carried out to determine the truth,” he said.
Subsequent questioning of ‘Witness D04-49’ by Ms. Douzima-Lawson was done in closed session.
The prosecution contends that most MLC soldiers were not aware of the existence of the code of conduct as it was disseminated in French to semi-literate soldiers, who did not understand the language.
Yesterday, prosecution lawyer Jean-Jacques Badibanga presented numerous communication logs relating to communication between the MLC headquarters in the Democratic Republic of Congo and field commanders in the CAR. Some of the logs were of field commanders making equipment requisitions and replying to information requests on operations including enemy strengths, size, tactics and weaponry.
In response to Mr. Badibanga’s questioning, ‘Witness D04-49’ stated that Mr. Bemba lacked the means to communicate with his commanders stationed in the conflict country. Furthermore, the witness said the communication logs that appeared to show Mr. Bemba issuing direct orders to his field commanders in the neighboring country were not conclusive evidence that he was in charge.
This afternoon, during re-direct questioning by defense lawyer Peter Haynes, ‘Witness D04-49’ reaffirmed his position.
In a series of logs, dated January 12-20, 2003 the MLC chief of general staff is indicated as requesting the group’s commander in the CAR for information on the enemy.
“What does this message, sent 11 weeks after the Congolese crossed into the CAR, tell us about the involvement of the MLC senior staff in the operations command of troops?” asked Mr. Haynes.
“That is the contradiction of the message. In principle you do not require this information so late after being involved in an operation. This is information that a commander is supposed to possess well before an operation. When such information is requested for after operations started, it is strange,” replied the witness.
Asked by Mr. Haynes what conclusion could be reached regarding the control of MLC troops by their staff headquarters given that this sort of information was never asked for again in any other communication log, the witness stated that the information was probably intended for administrative purposes. “The chief of general staff did not have that information. He probably woke up at that point in time and asked for the information.”
In October 2002, the CAR president Ange-Félix Patassé, called on the support of Mr. Bemba’s troops to assist him beat back a coup attempt. ICC prosecutors charge that the MLC’s progression in the conflict country was marked by widespread murder, rape, and looting. As their commander-in-chief, Mr. Bemba is being charged with two war crimes and three crimes against humanity for failure to reign in his rampaging soldiers. He has pleaded not guilty.
Hearings in the trial are scheduled to continue Monday, November 26, with the testimony of a new defense witness.