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Witness was gang-raped one week after giving birth

A witness today stated that Congolese soldiers belonging to Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) gang-raped her one week after she gave birth.

She said two of the four men who raped her in a suburb of the Central African Republic (CAR) were commanders in the militia. She provided their names in closed session. ‘Witness 81’ testified with protective measures, including the use of a pseudonym, as well as face and voice distortion to keep her identity secret.

The seventh witness called by prosecutors in the trial of the former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) also stated that the MLC were the only soldiers in her neighborhood at the time of her rape.

She recalled that two groups of MLC soldiers raided her home on the day she was raped. The first group took property and money. It was the second group that raped her. She stated that when the second group of five soldiers arrived, she was at home with her husband, new-born baby, mother, and sister.

“I was getting ready to prepare tea,” recalled the witness. “When they arrived, my husband took the baby. They said that they wanted a woman, and my husband said that I was his wife and I had a baby and they said that wasn’t a problem. They said they just wanted a woman, and I was a woman.’

“How many slept with you?” asked trial lawyer Thomas Bifwoli.

“Witness 81’ replied, “There were five of them but only four of them slept with me. The fifth one wanted to but since I was bleeding, he didn’t continue.” She said the soldiers raped her one after the other. While each soldier raped her, the rest looked on.

“I did not give my consent. I gave birth to a child one week before they raped me,” she said.

“How did you feel while these Banyamulenge [Congolese soldiers] were raping you?” asked Mr. Bifwoli.

“My pelvis hurt after the injuries of giving birth,” said the witness.

She recalled that a day after her rape, her husband rounded up all their children and fled with them. “He said that he wanted to go away and not return,” she said. He never provided a reason for leaving and has never come back.

Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson, one of the legal representatives of victims participating in the trial, asked ‘Witness 81’ what the soldiers did when her husband pleaded with them not to rape her. She replied that they threatened to rape him too if he continued protesting. He then went outside the house.

At the time Mr. Bemba dispatched his troops to the CAR, he was the leader of a rebel group that was trying to topple Congolese President Joseph Kabila. Following the signing of a peace accord in July 2003, Mr. Bemba became one of the DRC’s four Vice Presidents, before he ran for president three years later and lost to Mr. Kabila.

The crimes for which he is being tried were allegedly committed between October 26, 2002 and March 15, 2003. Prosecutors charge that Mr. Bemba is criminally responsible for two crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging) arising from his failure to control his rampaging soldiers during their stay in the CAR.

The witness also talked of widespread rapes and plunder committed by MLC soldiers in the PK22 suburb. “They raped, looted, they stole animals, and if people tried to put up resistance, they would hit them.”

The defense will cross-examine ‘Witness 81’ tomorrow morning.