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Bemba’s Defense Focuses on Inconsistencies in Witness Testimony

Jean-Pierre Bemba’s defense this week focused on various inconsistencies between the oral testimony given by a prosecution witness and the written statements he made earlier to court officials.

Whereas ‘Witness 73’ admitted one “error” that resulted from oversight on his part, he shifted responsibility for the other inconsistencies to International Criminal Court (ICC) officials who interviewed him. These officials, according to the witness, were an investigator from the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) and another who introduced himself as a staff of the court’s department responsible for reparations for victims.

The witness, who testified Monday through Friday, did not give his name in open court and testified with image and voice distortion in order to keep his identity secret. He told the trial that Mr. Bemba’s fighters invaded his home in the Central African Republic (CAR) capital Bangui in November 2002. He said one of those soldiers defiled his ten year old daughter.

Further, Witness 73’ recounted how Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers raped his neighbor’s underage daughter and beat this neighbor’s son into unconsciousness when the young man attempted to stop the militiamen from looting goods from his family’s kiosk.

However, when legal representatives of victims and Mr. Bemba’s defense started cross-examining the witness, he conceded that there were errors in written statements he made to court.

In his application to participate as a victim in Mr. Bemba’s trial, ‘Witness 73’ stated that his daughter, who was defiled by an MLC soldier, was 17 years old at the time of the event. In court, he said she was ten years old when an MLC soldier defiled her in December 2002.

On Wednesday, Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson, a legal representative of some of the victims participating in the trial, asked ‘Witness 73’ to explain the inconsistency between his statement in 2009 and his oral testimony. The witness explained that when he met investigators from the OTP, he erroneously told them that his daughter was 17 years old at the time she was defiled.

“Where it concerns her age, 17 was a mistake. I just answered the question without hesitating or reflecting. She was born in 1992,” the witness said.

According to the witness, the soldier who defiled his daughter had become a regular at his home and often sent his daughter to buy for him goods from shops in the neighborhood. He said in court that it appeared his daughter and the MLC soldier had consensual sex.

Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is on trial at the ICC over crimes committed by his troops in the CAR during 2002 and 2003. Prosecutors say these crimes included murder, rape, and pillaging. He has denied the charges. 

‘Witness 73’ admitted to further inconsistencies on Thursday. He claimed, however, that the inconsistencies in his application to participate in the trial were caused by an OTP investigator.

Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner noted that a handwritten account attached to the witness’s application form stated that MLC soldiers entered his house, threw his underage daughter to the ground and raped her. The judge then pointed out that in his oral testimony, the witness had said that the Congolese soldiers did not assault or rape his daughter.

The witness responded that the version in his application was incorrect. “When they entered [the house] they didn’t come across my daughter inside the house…my wife and myself were in the house, my daughter wasn’t there.”

He added, “What is certain is that they did sleep with her. But to say that she had been thrown to the ground and raped is something I cannot accept. My daughter wasn’t in my house at the time. They didn’t rape or brutalize her in my house.” 

Judge Steiner asked ‘Witness 73’ to clarify who helped him complete the form.

The witness replied, “The person who filled in this form was one of the investigators of the OTP, the one who interviewed me.” 

In addition, ‘Witness 73’ stated that it was not correct that the form, which he conceded bore his signature, was completed in March 2010 as indicated. “This application form, I filled [it] in 2008,” he said. 

Mr. Bemba’s defense lawyers showed the witness another handwritten document indicating a sum of money. The witness said while this document bore his signature, he did not personally fill in the form or write that figure. Asked by defense lawyer Peter Haynes who wrote it down, ‘Witness 73’ said that it was a person who identified himself in the neighborhood where the witness lived as an envoy of the ICC department responsible for reparations for victims.

This person, who reportedly carried around documents, would take an inventory of a victim’s belongings that were allegedly looted by MLC soldiers or which victims lost at the time the MLC were in the CAR. The witness met this individual at his neighbor’s house as he assisted this neighbor and his son to fill out forms. ‘Witness 73’ said it was his neighbor who introduced him to the said ICC official as one of the victims of the MLC soldiers’ atrocities.

‘Witness 73’ also recounted how the individual, who claimed to be from the reparations office of the ICC, asked him to inflate the value of what he lost to MLC soldiers.

“I told him that my wife was selling drinks and beer and those people [MLC soldiers] drunk on credit without paying, that they asked for food to be served to them without paying, that they took 30,000 francs from my wife,” said the witness. He added that he told the purported ICC official that MLC soldiers had sold him a radio set that they later took back without refunding the money he had paid.

According to ‘Witness 73,’ this individual advised him to claim an amount of 300,000 francs instead of the 30,000 francs that his wife had lost. The individual also reportedly advised him to claim that he had lost a television set instead of a radio set. 

“He told me, ‘But listen, people are mentioning large sums of money, and you are mentioning just small amounts of money. You don’t want to eat some of the cake?’ The person himself was making proposals and filling out the document,” the witness said.

It was not possible to establish what amount the witness eventually claimed on his form because the rest of his testimony on this issue was conducted in closed session.

Victims participating in trials at the ICC can claim compensation and reparations for losses and damage suffered once an accused is found guilty. If the guilty person does not have financial resources, then the court’s Trust Fund for Victims can be used to meet the reparations. More than one thousand individuals are participating as victims in Mr. Bemba’s trial. 

Meanwhile, this witness also testified that Libyan troops, who took part in fighting in Bangui during 2002 and 2003, never committed atrocities against civilians. “No one ever heard that the Libyans went into the neighborhoods and carried out acts of violence or that they beat or attacked anyone. The Libyans never did that.”

Under questioning by prosecuting lawyer Hesham Mourad, the witness explained that the “Libyan troops” did not go to the Bangui suburb of PK 12. “They did not carry out any patrols up to PK 12. They were at their bases and did not carry out any patrol,” he said.

At the time Mr. Bemba’s troops allegedly committed crimes against CAR civilians, they were in that country to help then president Ange-Félix Patassé to fight off a coup attempt led by Mr. Bozizé.

The witness said when MLC troops entered PK 12, they set about forcefully occupying civilians’ houses, forcing individuals to prepare food for them, and then looting CAR citizens’ properties. 

‘Witness 73’ also stated that commanders of the MLC militia looked on as soldiers committed abuses against civilians. He said an individual, who was identified as the commander of the soldiers in the neighborhood where the witness lived, did not reprimand his troops who looted from civilians and committed numerous abuses. 

“Do you know whether the perpetrators were punished?” asked Mr. Mourad.

“No,” replied the witness. He added, “It was their commander who commanded the attacks and took part in the attacks. They were not afraid doing anything, committing these atrocities, because after committing these atrocities, they were very happy.” The witness said this commander was known as “Saddam.”

The witness also stated that a colonel took part in torturing a boy who tried to resist MLC troops that looted his shop. The witness also recalled how Mr. Bemba’s soldiers beat him up as they ransacked his wife’s shop. “The commander spoke to them, and he also spoke to me while pointing his weapon at me and he threatened to kill me,” said ‘Witness 73.’