A prosecution witness today recounted how she, her four children, and her husband were subjected to multiple rapes by soldiers belonging to the group founded by war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba.
The witness also told the trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague that some of her neighbours were raped too. Talking about how soldiers of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) committed mass rapes in her neighborhood, the witness said, “They were not hiding, they were doing it quite openly.”
‘Witness 80,’ who was described by Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner as “very vulnerable,” testified with protective measures, including the use of a pseudonym, as well as face and voice distortion to keep her identity secret.
“How many Banyamulenge [Congolese soldiers] raped you?” prosecuting lawyer Thomas Bifwoli asked the witness.
“Three of them raped me,” replied ‘Witness 80.’
The witness did not give the full circumstances of her rape in open court. However, she stated that when she tried to resist her attackers, who spoke the Congolese language Lingala, they threatened to rape her “50 times without stopping.”
Regarding her family members, the witness said,“They made my children also suffer. The Banyamulenge raped me. They raped my husband and my children.” She recalled that her children, who at the time of the attack were in other houses within the same compound as she, saw her being raped and attempted to flee. It was then that the soldiers grabbed them and raped them too.
“I wanted to speak about my first daughter; she was raped and now she has problems to conceive,” said the witness. “Another as well was 11 [years old] at the time, she was deflowered. Another was 14 [years old] at the time. Another was pregnant when she was raped.”
Mr. Bemba, a former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is on trial at the ICC for allegedly failing to control his MLC fighters who pillaged, raped, and murdered civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) between October 2002 and March 2003. He has denied all five charges against him, claiming he was not in control of the fighters once they entered Central African territory where they went to assist the country’s then president Ange-Félix Patassé to fight back a coup attempt.
‘Witness 80,’ who was a resident of PK 12, a suburb of the CAR capital Bangui, stated that besides the MLC soldiers, rebels belonging to coup plotter François Bozizé’s group were also present in her neighborhood. However, as with all previous prosecution witnesses, ‘Witness 80’ insisted that Bozizé’s fighters did not commit any crimes against the civilian population of the CAR.
“No, they [Bozizé’s rebels] did not commit any crimes. They are the ones who came to free us from our suffering,” she said.
Fearing repeat attacks, the witness and her family fled to PK 22, another suburb in Bangui, only to find that there was fighting between the MLC troops and Bozizé’s rebels in that suburb. They were forced to return to PK 12.
The witness also said that MLC soldiers “took everything from her house.” According to her, “They took away the beds, the foam mattresses, kitchen utensils, and even the furniture. They did not leave anything.”
’Witness 80’ stated that while her family was rich and respected before the attacks, since the assaults her family members had been subjected to ridicule from their neighbors. “We ate well, we lived well, but after those events, everyone was making fun of us,” she said.
Asked by Mr. Bifwoli how the rapes affected her daughters, the witness responded, “Right now as I talk to you, which kind of man is going to approach any of my daughters? Every man is afraid of my daughters since they were assaulted.”
‘Witness 80’ continues her testimony tomorrow morning.