A rape survivor testifying in Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial told the court on Monday that she discovered she was infected with HIV/AIDS following her rape by soldiers of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC).
The witness said, however, that she did not know whether the two men who raped her in October 2002 were the ones who infected her with the virus. The witness testified with face and voice distortion to keep her identity secret.
‘Witness 68’ said her sister-in-law who was raped by three men on the same day as herself suffered severe health problems after the attack and died in 2005. “She had many health problems, problems with her abdomen, and she died in the year 2005,” she said.
The witness said that after the attack, she herself experienced a lot of pain and suffered a swollen spleen. She added that medical examinations subsequently revealed that she had AIDS.
She said the men who raped her were armed with guns. Two of them raped her in turns while a third soldier stepped on her arms to keep her on the ground.
Trial lawyer Petra Kneur asked the witness to describe how she feels at present.
She replied, “My spirits are low. I have a tendency to depression, and when I see a soldier or a man with a weapon, I am afraid. Even on a public road, I get very afraid.”
The prosecution has said that MLC soldiers infected Central African women with HIV, when they allegedly carried out widespread rape, murder, and plunder in 2002 and 2003. The troops were in the country to help its then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, to beat back a coup attempt. Mr. Bemba, the head of the MLC, is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) due to his alleged failure to stop or punish the rampaging troops.
‘Witness 68,’who is the fifth prosecution witness in the Bemba trial, also told the court about the plunder allegedly committed by Congolese soldiers. She said the soldiers who raped her also grabbed her bag which contained clothes and food.
She said the rampaging soldiers spoke Lingala, a Congolese language she was familiar with as she had met several Congolese women that spoke it.
Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner said that in view of an assessment of the witness by a psychologist from the Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU), a support person from the VWU would sit next to the witness in the courtroom and a psychologist would be available in court to monitor the witness.
Judges also upheld recommendations by VWU psychologists that the witness should be asked short and simple, open-ended questions. Judge Steiner asked the parties to put questions to ‘Witness 68’ in a non-confrontational manner, and to ensure that embarrassing questions were avoided or formulated as delicately as possible.
‘Witness 68’ continues her testimony on Tuesday.