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Witness says Bemba soldiers sodomized him in front of his wives and children

A witness today told judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that three soldiers from war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s militia group sodomized him in the presence of his wives and children.

He said that over a period of four days, the Congolese soldiers repeatedly raped his children and his wives. “When they felt the need to sleep with a woman, they would come back [to my home],” he said. He added that the soldiers shot one of his wives dead.

Testifying in the trial of the former Congolese Vice President, the witness stated that his rape ordeal lasted about four hours, from 10.00 a.m. to about 2.00 p.m.

“My wives and my children were all present. The one who left me, she was the one who was able to get away and the other one, after some gunfire occurred, she collapsed, and she fell ill immediately,” said ‘Witness 23’. “The third [wife] remained. She was there and she saw everything. Together with my wives and my children, we were submitted to all that.”

Prosecution counsel Thomas Bifwoli asked the witness how he felt being raped in front of his wives and children.

“I felt as if I was a dying man,” the witness replied. “Later on, every time I saw a Zairian [Congolese] national, I always have this feeling that I want to get hold of him and strangle him. But I can’t do anything.”

“Did they rape you in turns or all together?” asked Mr. Bifwoli.

The witness replied, “The first one slept with me, and he ejaculated in me. Then the second one came to do the same thing. He ejaculated in me. And finally the third one did the same thing as the two earlier ones had done.”

When Mr. Bifwoli asked the witness for specifics of the attack, Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner remarked, “The prosecutor is free to continue with this line of questioning, but just to inform [him] that the chamber is satisfied with the physical details of the attack.” She advised the prosecuting attorney to avoid posing intrusive questions.

Counsel for Mr. Bemba, Nkwebe Richard Liriss, said the defense was also satisfied with the explanations that the witness had provided.

In his statement at the start of Mr. Bemba’s trial last November, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo stated that Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers raped Central African men in public so as to destroy their authority and their capacity to lead. “The message behind these rapes was particularly evident from MLC’s targeted and selective raping of men, men in positions of authority, community leaders, and protectors of the communities,” he said.

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said then that ‘Witness 23’ was a community leader who identified himself to Mr. Bemba’s soldiers as the representative of his village. He said the soldiers replied, “Right, you are exactly the kind of person we are looking for because you protect the rebels,” and then went on to rape him and members of his family.

The prosecution charges that Mr. Bemba knowingly let the 1,500 armed men he allegedly commanded and controlled to commit hundreds of rapes and pillages. He has denied all five charges against him.

Today’s witness, who testified with voice and face distortion, gave much of his testimony in closed session. In open court, he also stated that Mr. Bemba’s soldiers took his vehicle, his tapioca flour mill, and his generator set, among other valuables. “I was someone who had a lot, but I was left with nothing,” he said.

“Witness 23’ will continue his testimony on Monday.