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A witness told Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial today that she pondered suicide after being gang-raped by soldiers belonging to the Movement for Congolese Liberation (MLC), the group the accused commanded. 

“Can you describe to court how you felt during the assault?” senior trial lawyer Petra Kneur asked ‘witness 22,’ who was testifying for the second day. 

“When they brutalized me, after I got up and I found my entire family, we fled. That day I wanted to commit suicide,” she replied. 

The prosecuting attorney asked whether any of the three men who raped her wore a condom. The witness replied that none of them wore a condom. She said all three of them ejaculated in her. 

While the prosecuting attorney continued to question the witness about the details of the rape incident, defense counsel Nkwebe Liriss interjected, arguing that the manner of questioning would make the witness to reexperience the rape ordeal.

However, Ms. Kneur responded that among the four elements of the war crime of rape was establishing the rape act and that this act was committed by force.

She continued, “Also, we believe that the victims waited for eight years to be heard in this court and they may want to take the opportunity to tell their stories. So to a certain extent we may want to leave it to the victims to tell their story. However, considering the prosecution’s interest to contribute to expeditious trial proceedings and to minimize any potential retraumatization of the victim, in these instances we would only question the witnesses very briefly, with short direct questions.” 

Mr. Nkwebe stated that the defense did not want the questioning by the prosecution to make the witness to relive what she experienced. He added, however, that while the defense acknowledged what happened to the witness, “we would have reservations on the perpetrators.” 

The defense has previously stated that there were many armed groups in the CAR at the time the MLC were in the country and that the military groups that committed crimes against civilians were not from Mr. Bemba’s group. 

Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) because – prosecutors argue – he failed to stop or punish his soldiers as they raped, murdered, and pillaged in the Central African Republic. Mr. Bemba’s MLC troops were in the CAR during 2002 and 2003 to help the country’s then president Angé-Felix Patassé stave off a coup attempt. 

Mr. Bemba has denied all five charges against him and stated that once his fighters crossed from DRC to the CAR they were under the control of Mr. Patassé and not his. 

The witness testified with protective measures, including face and voice distortion, the use of a pseudonym, and partial closed sessions. She said she was raped from her uncle’s home by MLC soldiers. 

‘Witness 22’ also told the trial today that the men who raped her spoke French as well as Lingala, a language spoken in the DRC, and that they mentioned that they were Congolese. She stated that after they raped her, the men stole ducks, chicken, goats, clothes, and electronics from the home where she lived.

The prosecution is expected to complete questioning tomorrow afternoon, after which legal representatives of victims participating in the trial will ask additional questions to the witness .