Jean-Pierre Bemba’s soldiers turned a Central African woman into their cook after four of them gang-raped her, the Bemba trial was told today. Under cross-examination, ‘Witness 81’ stated that after being raped by four soldiers of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), she fled from her home in the suburb of PK12 near Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), to PK22, also near the capital.
She recounted that because of the fighting in the area where she had sought refugee, she was forced to return to her home in PK12. She told the trial presided over by Judge Sylvia Steiner that when she returned home, she found that MLC soldiers had dug defensive trenches in front of her house, where they stayed day and night. The soldiers then obliged her to prepare their meals on a daily basis. The raw provisions for the meals were provided by the soldiers.
“But the soldiers [in the trenches] never entered your house, did they?” asked Mr. Bemba’s attorney Peter Haynes.
The witness replied: “No, they didn’t enter the houses. They had everything with them outside and we did various sorts of work for them. It was outside the house.”
‘Witness 81’ said that some people in her neighborhood assumed that she was having sex with the Congolese soldiers and taking money from them, but this was not the case.
“It is the day on which they arrived to rape me but afterwards, they no longer touched me,” she said. She told the trial that she prepared meals for the MLC soldiers for two weeks although she did not say in open court how she stopped preparing meals for the soldiers. Most of her evidence was given in closed session.
She explained, however, that while she worked as an unpaid a cook for the troops, she learnt the names of the MLC soldiers who raped her. Last Friday, the witness provided these names – but in closed session. Today, Mr. Haynes asked the witness whether she had not stated in her statement to prosecution investigators three years ago that she had never had prior meetings with the soldiers she prepared meals for.
“Perhaps it’s been noted down incorrectly,” she replied, in reference to the investigators who took her statement which the defense attorney was referring to. “I had met them and the same people came and obliged us to cook for them.”
Mr. Bemba, the former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly failing to control his troops who raped, murdered, and plundered in the CAR during 2002 and 2003.
The defense today also picked up on what they claimed were inconsistencies in the account given by the witness regarding Mr. Bemba’s visit to Bangui. In her testimony, the witness stated that she saw Mr. Bemba arrive in a Bangui suburb by helicopter of the same color as his military uniform. According to the witness, the accused then addressed the local CAR population while he was surrounded by his soldiers.
But the defense contended that an individual who went with ‘Witness 81’ to see Mr. Bemba had provided information that contradicted what she stated.
“This is someone who was apparently with you. He has described [that] Mr. Bemba was not in military uniform as you have said,” stated defense attorney Liriss Nkwebe. “He said that he [Bemba] did not come by helicopter. He also added that he did not speak to the population. On the contrary, the population was not allowed to meet with him. Do you stand by your testimony to this court regarding the arrival of Mr. Bemba?”
The witness responded: “I am not talking about the dreams of someone else. I am telling you about something that I witnessed myself. If someone else had dreams, I can not interpret those dreams on their behalf.”
The trial will resume on Wednesday with the testimony of a new witness who will tomorrow undergo a familiarization process of the court processes.