A witness today denied that a minister in the current government of the Central African Republic (CAR) told witnesses what to say when they went to give testimony in the war crimes trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba.
Equally, the witness denied that prosecution staff at the International Criminal Court (ICC) had told her that it was Mr. Bemba’s troops who were responsible for the violence and abuses that occurred in the Central African capital Bangui during 2002 and 2003.
Testifying for the third day, ‘Witness 82’ affirmed that she had met several times with Bernadette Sayo, who founded a nongovernmental organization that assisted rape survivors and is currently a cabinet minister in the government of CAR president Francois Bozizé. However, the witness said that while Ms. Sayo encouraged her and other survivors to testify at the ICC, she did not tell them what to say.
Mr. Bemba’s defense has questioned several witnesses about their dealings with OCODEFAD (L’Organisation pour la Compassion et le Développement des Familles en Détresse), the organization which Ms. Sayo founded.
Today, after the witness said she had attended several meetings at OCODEFAD that culminated into her testimony in the trial, defense attorney Aime Kilolo-Musamba asked her whether Ms. Sayo had recently contacted her by telephone or other means. The witness replied that she could not recall when she last met the OCODEFAD founder, but she went on to deny that Ms. Sayo had told the rape survivors what to say in their testimony.
“She said nothing bad to me. She only gave me advice, so I can’t tell lies,” stated ‘Witness 82.’ Asked what this advice was, she responded, “She gave us advice that concerned the acts of violence committed by Banyamulenge [Congolese soldiers]… she told us to come and that she would take care of us and that is why I am here speaking of these events.”
“Did she say it was Banyamulenge who committed all these acts of violence in Bangui?” asked Mr. Kilolo-Musamba.
“She couldn’t tell me that,” replied the witness, adding that as a victim of the acts of violence, she knew that the perpetrators were soldiers from the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). She added that Ms. Sayo was herself a victim of the MLC soldiers’ crimes because they killed her husband. The witness stated that Ms. Sayo founded OCODEFAD to enable victims to tell the ICC what happened to them.
Asked whether Ms. Sayo had told her that she would receive compensation for testifying in Mr. Bemba’s trial, the witness answered, “She did not talk to us about compensation. We came here to talk about what we experienced. We did not come to ask for any kind of compensation.”
According to the witness, OCODEFAD offered rape survivors food and, occasionally, money. Most of this help came from the CAR government.
Mr. Kilolo-Musamba asked the witness whether she could give evidence that was unfavorable to Mr. Bozizé’s government given that it had supported victims through OCODEFAD. “Do you know whether Bozizé’s government is aware of the testimony that you are currently giving in this courtroom?” he asked.
The witness replied, “I came here to give testimony myself. Who could go and say to the government what I am saying?”
She added, “Bozizé never committed harmful acts against the population. He fed people, paid salaries regularly, so I can’t tell lies against him.”
The defense has maintained that the crimes for which Mr. Bemba is on trial were possibly committed by any of the numerous fighting forces that were in Bangui at the time, including Mr. Bozizé’s rebels. Equally, the defense has argued that the MLC fighters in Bangui were under the command of the country’s then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, and that it is Mr. Patassé – rather than Mr. Bemba – who should be in the dock at the ICC.
Earlier in the week, ‘Witness 82’ told the trial that two MLC soldiers raped her when she was 12 years old. She said the Congolese soldiers also raped her sisters and grandmother, and bludgeoned her brother to death.
The trial continues on Tuesday, February 8, with the testimony of a new witness.