Today, a witness blamed inconsistencies in his application to participate as a victim in the trial of former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba on staff of the prosecution office at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
‘Witness 73’ also stated that an individual, who claimed to be working with the court, advised him to falsify the value of assets he lost to Mr. Bemba’s soldiers so that he could inflate his reparations claim.
Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner said to the witness that a handwritten account attached to his application form to participate in Mr. Bemba’s trial stated that Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers entered his house, threw his underage daughter to the ground and raped her. The judge 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,” stated the witness.
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 person who filled in this form was one of the investigators of the OTP [Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC], the one who interviewed me,” replied the witness.
The witness also 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 in 2008. It was in 2008,” he said.
Prosecutors at the ICC charge that Mr. Bemba as the military commander of the MLC is responsible for the murder, rape, and pillaging committed by his troops in the Central African Republic (CAR). The troops were in the country to assist its then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, fight off a coup attempt.
Under cross-examination by the defense, the witness was shown another handwritten document indicating a sum of money. The witness said although this document bore his signature, he did not personally write it. 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 carried around documents, would take an inventory of a victim’s belongings that were allegedly looted by MLC soldiers or that the victims lost at the time the MLC were engaged in the conflict in the CAR during 2002 and 2003. The witness met this individual at his neighbor’s house as he assisted this neighbor and his son to fill out forms.
‘Witness 73’ stated that it was his neighbor who introduced him to the said ICC official as one of the victims of the MLC soldiers. In his testimony this week, ‘Witness 73’ has recounted how his neighbor was beaten, his ten year old daughter raped, and his son tortured and detained by MLC soldiers.
The witness also recounted how the individual, who claimed to be from the reparations office of the ICC, asked him to inflate the goods 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 which his wife 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.
‘Witness 73’ gave the rest of his testimony in closed session. It was not clear whether he completed giving evidence.
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.
The trial is scheduled to continue tomorrow morning.