On Wednesday, a witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba that two soldiers belonging to the accused’s militia raped her when she was 12 years old and bludgeoned her brother to death when he tried to stop them.
At the beginning of her testimony this morning, the witness said soldiers of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) also raped her sisters and her grandmother. She stated that her grandmother was pregnant at the time of the attack, and her baby died shortly after birth.
The witness testified with face and voice distortion to keep her identity secret. She gave most of her evidence in closed session. Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner said a psychologist would be present in court to monitor the witness and that an official of the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) would sit beside the witness to offer her any assistance she might need. The Judge said these measures were recommended after a psychological assessment of the witness.
The witness recalled she was raped on October 7, 2002, at around 4:00 a.m., when soldiers attacked their home. Her sisters and grandmother were raped on the same day, she said. “When this happened I was 12 [years old]. The Banyamulenge [Congolese soldiers] committed an act of violence against me. At the time I was still a virgin, and I have come before this court to speak about this,” stated the witness.
The witness said when the soldiers grabbed her, she cried out to alert her father, who attempted to rescue her. “My father wanted to intervene, and they put their weapons against him. Other people came and it was [at] that time that they seized me and raped me,” the witness stated.
“Apart from the rape, did they do anything else?” prosecution lawyer Thomas Bifwoli asked.
“They took away our clothes, our beds, they took away everything that was in the house,” answered ‘Witness 82.’ She added, “They also destroyed many things…they destroyed items such as the refrigerator and TV set.”
The witness also noted that she knew many people in her neighborhood who were raped by MLC soldiers. She said they included her neighbor’s children as well as her nieces.
Mr. Bemba, a former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is on trial for allegedly failing to stop the rapes, murders, and plunder carried out by his soldiers in the Central African Republic (CAR) during 2002 and 2003. He has denied the charges, claiming he was not in charge of the troops once they entered CAR territory.
All eight witnesses so far called by the prosecution have stated that the soldiers who committed atrocities against Central African civilians belonged to the MLC, but the defense has countered that there were many fighting groups in the country at the time and that any of them could have been responsible for the atrocities.
The trial continues tomorrow with the cross-examination of ‘Witness 82.’