The prosecution’s eleventh witness in the war crimes trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba today disowned sections of a statement he made to investigators in 2008.
Under cross-examination by Mr. Bemba’s defense, ‘Witness 73’ said sections of his statement to prosecution investigators, which were read out in court, misrepresented what he actually said to the individuals who interviewed him.
Mr. Bemba’s lawyer Peter Haynes asked the witness why the account he gave to investigators about the rape of his neighbor’s daughter varied from what he told court this week. In the statement, he said he saw a soldier of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) dragging the ten year old girl to rape her. In court he stated that he saw three soldiers.
“The statement noted that it was one Banyamulenge [MLC soldiers] but am asking you to only rely on what I am telling you here,” replied the witness. “I told you that I saw three people dragging the girl away.”
Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is on trial at the International Criminal Court for failing to control his troops when they were in the Central African Republic to assist then president Ange-Félix Patassé fight off a coup attempt. Prosecutors say the MLC fighters committed mass rape, killings, and plunder in various suburbs of the Central African capital Bangui.
The defense lawyer quoted the witness as having said in his statement that MLC soldiers detained his neighbor’s son for two days after they beat him. However, the witness insisted today that the boy was in the MLC jail for about three hours before he was released to his mother. ‘Witness 73’ said he witnessed the release of the boy and his transportation by push cart back to his father’s home.
“If I were to suggest to you that after his detention, the son did not return to live with your neighbor for several months, what would your reaction be?” asked Mr. Haynes.
The witness affirmed that the boy was released the same day MLC soldiers took him away from his father’s home. After his release, he stayed at his father’s home and the witness said he often saw the boy’s mother nursing his wounds using local herbs.
Yesterday, the witness said – contrary to his original statement – MLC soldiers did not find his daughter inside his house, nor did they throw her to the ground or rape her. He said his daughter had consensual sex with a soldier who had become a regular at his home. ‘Witness 73’ said he mistakenly told investigators that his daughter was 17 years old at the time she was defiled yet she was ten years old.
The witness also stated that although an application to participate in the trial that bore his signature was dated March 2010, he actually filled it in during 2008.
Mr. Haynes today asked the witness whether he noticed that he was being recorded at the time he was being interviewed.
“I do not know some of the things these people had…I cannot tell you whether my voice was recorded with a device,” said the witness. He added that his interview with the prosecution investigators was conducted with the aid of an interpreter.
After the witness said the signature on the statement shown to him was his, Mr. Haynes asked, “Why did you put it there?”
“They asked me questions, which I answered. I was a victim. I accepted to go and give my statements voluntarily,” said ‘Witness 73.’ “They asked me whether I could sign, and I said yes.”
The trial continues on Monday.