A witness currently giving evidence in the trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today said that his son was attacked last week by unknown assailants. However, he did not say in open court where the attack took place and what the possible motive of the attack was.
Last Friday, the witness testified that soldiers from the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), the group Mr. Bemba led, flogged him and his son in November 2002. The soldiers alleged that his son supported rebels who were attempting to topple then Central African Republic (CAR) president Ange-Félix Patassé. The witness said two of Mr. Bemba’s soldiers, who were in the country to defend Mr. Patassé against the coup attempt, also raped his ten year old daughter.
At the recommencement of his testimony this afternoon, the witness stated he had had a bad weekend because his wife had informed via telephone about an attack on their son. “My child that I talked about here was attacked. The attackers used an axe, and the child has injuries to the head. There are four wounds,” he said.
Asked by Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner whether he had informed the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU), the witness answered, “But I am here. How can it be possible for me to share this information?” He then added, “It is when I was in the waiting room that I got the telephone, and I called my wife. On that day they [VWU staff] were there and they heard the information.”
When Judge Steiner asked ‘Witness 42’ when he first heard about the attack on his son, he said it was last Wednesday. However, he added that he had also spoken to his wife last Friday and today. “Even today before I came into the courtroom, I called my wife who gave me some information. She also told me that she had had a medical certificate issued that she will attach to the complaint to be lodged in our courts,” said the witness.
At this stage, Judge Steiner took the hearing into closed session. When the hearing resumed in open court, the Judge asked ‘Witness 42’ whether he was ready to continue giving testimony. The witness said he was ready to continue. Judge Steiner then said the trial would continue but advised the witness that if he wished to talk to someone in the VWU, he should inform judges and the hearing would be suspended.
The trial continued with the witness describing abuses committed by MLC soldiers against Central African civilians and the visit to the country’s capital Bangui by Mr. Bemba. At the time MLC soldiers attacked his home, the witness lived in the Bangui suburb of PK 12. After the break, ‘Witness 42’ said he had just spoken to his wife and his son, and this had put his mind at ease.
The VWU provides protective measures, security arrangements, counseling, and other assistance to victims and witnesses who might be at risk because of testifying in trials at the ICC. In the trials being conducted, the VWU has relocated some witnesses from their villages to other parts of their countries or moved them to other countries altogether. It also offers counseling and psychosocial support to victims and witnesses before and their testimony.
A great majority of witnesses in Mr. Bemba’s trial, as in the two other trials taking place at the ICC, have testified with protective measures, such as face and voice distortion and the use of pseudonyms, in order to protect their identity. It is feared that if their identity were known, they or their families would be subjected to reprisal attacks. These witnesses have also given most of their evidence in closed session, with the names of individuals, places, and organizations that could give clues to their identity rarely mentioned in open court.
The trial resumes tomorrow morning with legal representatives of victims questioning ‘Witness 42.’