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Witness: Court Official Advised Me To Make False Claims

On the final day of his testimony, ‘Witness 73,’ the eleventh witness called by the prosecution in the trial of former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, today reaffirmed that an individual who identified himself as a staff of the International Criminal Court (ICC) reparations office advised him to make false claims. 

He said this individual, whose name he did not give in open court, encouraged him to lie about the properties he lost to soldiers belonging to Mr. Bemba’s group in order to claim higher amounts in reparations. Also, the witness said, this person advised him to lie to prosecution investigators that his daughter had been raped by a Congolese soldier, when she had had a consensual relationship with him. 

“He himself wrote these things down,” said ‘Witness 73’ while explaining what he said were falsehoods in his application to participate in the trial. The application was filled in by the unnamed individual, who the witness said introduced himself as a staff of the ICC office in charge of reparations to victims. The witness added that while this individual was helping him to fill in the application, he advised as follows: “You should say your daughters were raped. You don’t say that your daughter had a relationship with those men.”

Last Friday, this witness denied sections of a statement made to prosecution investigators during 2008 in which he claimed his daughter was raped. He said he believed his daughter had consensual sex with a soldier from the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) and denied he ever claimed to anybody that his daughter had been raped.

‘Witness 73’ also told the trial that the individual in question advised him to inflate the value of property he lost to MLC soldiers. He said this official wrote a sum of 300,000 francs as the value of what was lost by the witness’s wife, whereas she actually lost 30,000 francs. His application to participate in the trial, which bore this figure, was shown to the witness by defense lawyer Peter Haynes. The document listed items including bedding, a television set, kitchen utensils, a brick making machine, and a moped. 

“Did you own such a brick making machine?” asked Mr. Haynes. 

“No, I did not own one. I produced my own bricks at home using wooden frames. I have never owned such a machine,” replied the witness. He went on to also deny ever owning a moped. The witness said all the items listed on the document were never looted from him because he never owned them. 

“This is a swindle. It was not me,” stated ‘Witness 73.’ “Perhaps he [the purported ICC official] did this to obtain a percentage of the compensations, but I don’t know. I would like to say that everything in this document is false. I can not acknowledge it.” 

According to the witness, the purported ICC official carried documents and a card certifying that he was an ICC official. At his neighbor’s house where ‘Witness 73’ first met this individual, there were nine other victims he was helping to fill in their forms. 

“The people at your neighbor’s house, were they all being advised like you, to say they had suffered crimes which in truth they had not suffered?” inquired Mr. Haynes.

The witness replied, “Victims sometimes exaggerated and they gave extraordinary lists to this man.” Each individual, including the witness, paid 2,500 francs to be registered and assisted by this individual, he said. According to ‘Witness 73,’ some of these individuals lived in his neighborhood and were well known to him. He gave their names in closed session.

Meanwhile, ‘Witness 79’ started giving evidence today, although she only testified briefly about the presence of rebel forces in her neighborhood before Mr. Bemba’s forces occupied it. Judge Sylvia Steiner said the witness had been granted protective measures including image and voice distortion, as well as the use of a pseudonym. She would also give some of her evidence in closed session. 

In addition, at the recommendation of the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU), which categorized ‘Witness 79’ as “vulnerable,” judges asked parties not to ask the witness questions that would cause her psychological harm or lead to retraumatization. A psychologist would also be present in court to monitor the witness, and an official from the VWU would sit beside the witness to offer her any assistance she might need. 

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court charge that members of Mr. Bemba’s personal army used rape as a weapon of war when they went to the CAR to help then president Ange-Félix Patassé ward off a coup attempt. 

Although Mr. Bemba was not personally in the country, prosecutors argue that he is criminally responsible for the rape, murder, and pillaging carried out by his troops. This, they say, is because he failed to punish or stop the soldiers from committing these crimes, although he was aware that they were being committed.

Most of the witnesses so far called by the prosecution are rape survivors, while a few others had their wives or daughters raped by soldiers they said were from Mr. Bemba’s group.

The trial continues tomorrow with the testimony of ‘Witness 79.’