The third witness to testify in the trial of former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba today recounted how soldiers of the Movement for Congolese Liberation (MLC) stormed her house, raped her, stole ducks and goats, and shot the family dog.
Mr. Bemba has pleaded not guilty to all the five counts he faces. Prosecutors argue that Mr. Bemba is criminally responsible for the crimes of rape, murder, and pillaging that were committed by his MLC troops while they were in the CAR in 2002 and 2003. Mr. Bemba’s criminal responsibility, they argue, arose from his failure or unwillingness to punish or stop his troops who were committing atrocities against civilians.
‘Witness 22,’ who started her testimony in the afternoon, was described by presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner as “very vulnerable,” testified with voice and face distortion, and used a pseudonym.
She stated that on October 26, 2002, as she prepared to go to a prayer house, she heard people shouting and saw others fleeing. She discovered that troops trying to overthrow the then president of the Central African Republic (CAR), Ange-Felix Patassé, had attacked the suburb where she lived and were shooting in the air.
These troops, the witness said, did not commit any atrocities against civilians. “They just shot their weapons into the air so that people would free up the road,” she said.
But then things changed when the MLC soldiers arrived into the PK 12 suburb and drove out the rebels who were trying to overthrow the government of President Patassé.
“We did not go out of the house. All the women who were at our home, we did not go out,” recalled the witness. “If we needed something to eat, the men were the ones who would go out to find something for us to eat. And they are the ones who would tell us what was going on outside.”
’Witness 22’ said the men informed them that MLC troops had occupied the whole of PK 12, and that “they were carrying out atrocities, raping people, and doing whatever they wanted to do.”
Then one rainy morning, at about 4:00 or 5:00 am, the Congolese soldiers stormed the house where the witness was staying. “We were still sleeping, and it was raining hard. We heard the door being broken down, and we heard them open the door and we heard their footsteps in the house,” she said.
‘Witness 22’ said that although several MLC soldiers entered her bedroom, all but six of them subsequently left the bedroom. Those who remained asked her for money, but she told them she did not have any.
“Then they asked me to lie down on my bed,” the witness recalled. She said she told the soldiers she did not want to do what they were asking her to do. “I had a small pair of shorts, a jacket, and a wrap around me. He pointed his weapon at me and he threw me on the bed and pointed the weapon at my neck. He pulled out a small knife, tore off my shorts and my underwear and threw it away. Then he forcibly spread my legs, and he slept with me.”
She told the trial that while this soldier was raping her, the others were also in the room, searching for any property they could cart away.
“When the one who had been sleeping with me finished, he stood up and left. Another replaced him and slept with me,” the witness said. “After him, there was another one who slept with me, so out of the six of them who had entered my room, three of them slept with me.”
‘Witness 22’ told the trial that after the three MLC soldiers had raped her, they took her to the sitting room to join other members of her family. In front of her family members, the soldiers then asked one of her uncle’s wives to undress. When she undressed they discovered that she had a skin condition so they did not rape her. She said the soldiers also did not rape her uncle’s other wife who was pregnant.
The witness said that Mr. Bemba’s soldiers threw her uncle off his bed even though he was suffering from paralysis. They did not believe him when he said that he did not have any money to give them, she said.
As they dragged another of her uncles out of the house, the soldiers allegedly stated that President Patassé had instructed them to start killing all children aged 10 and above. The president had also allegedly told them that everyone who had a fence around their house was harboring rebels and either had to be killed or would give the soldiers money to buy his freedom.
The witness stated, “We had ducks, fowls, goats and many domestic animals. They broke down the door in which the animals were kept and they took everything from the big house. We had a room in which we kept food for storage. They took out all the food after breaking down the door.”
And she went on, “In my elder uncle’s room, they took clothes and everything they could take from the room. After that, they took one of my uncles outside and said that since we did not want to give them money, they were going to kill him and [they] pointed the gun at him.
“He was stood up against the wall of the house but since they were pointing the gun at him, there were dogs that were barking and barking. When they heard that noise, they shot one of the dogs dead. They let my uncle go but they took the dog and shot it.”
‘Witness 22’ continues her testimony tomorrow afternoon.