On Wednesday, a witness insisted that it was Congolese troops belonging to war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s militia who raped women and looted property in the Central African Republic (CAR) capital of Bangui from November 2002 to early 2003.
‘Witness 87,’ who told the judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) yesterday that she was raped by three of Mr. Bemba’s soldiers, today stated that by the time the Congolese troops arrived in Bangui, the rebels who were attempting to topple the CAR president had already withdrawn.
Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers were in the CAR at the time to help the country’s then president Ange-Felix Patassé fight off rebel soldiers who were trying to overthrow him. Prosecutors at the ICC charge that the MLC carried out widespread rapes, murders, and pillaging. It is alleged Mr. Bemba is criminally responsible for having failed to act or punish those responsible for the crimes. The ICC trial of Mr. Bemba, a former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, started last November.
Besides arguing that Mr. Bemba did not have control over the troops once they entered the CAR, his defense lawyers also contend that there were many militias in Bangui at the time, and these crimes could not be pinned to any one of those groups.
However, the witness told the court that the soldiers who raped her, killed her brother, and looted houses and markets in her neighborhood, spoke Lingala and were Congolese. “After these [Congolese] soldiers arrived, I did not see any other soldiers,” she said in response to questioning by prosecution trial lawyer Petra Kneur.
The witness also recalled the last words her brother said before he died after being shot by MLC soldiers who raided their home. She recalled that while she was still behind the house after being raped, she heard her brother shout, “No! No!” and then there were gunshots.
“Did your brother say anything else?’ asked Ms. Kneur.
“When I heard his voice when he was in the bedroom with the Banyamulenge [Congolese soldiers], at that time I heard him say that, and after he was shot by the Banyamulenge and the Banyamulenge withdrew from the house, I begun to hear him moan,” recalled the witness. “He moaned three times and then there was silence.”
“When you heard your brother moaning three times, can you recall if he said anything else?” asked Ms. Kneur.
The witness replied, “Yes, he said something which I did hear. He said ‘thank you, thank you. You have killed me. You can go in peace.’ That is what I heard.”
The witness testified with image and voice distortion and gave much of her testimony in closed session. She did not state in open court why the soldiers shot her brother.
Tomorrow, the defense is scheduled to cross-examine ‘witness 87.’