The trial of former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today heard from the 13th prosecution witness, who said she tested positive for HIV after being raped by three members of Mr. Bemba’s militia.
Testifying under the pseudonym ‘Witness 29,’ she testified that about eight months after being raped, she went to a doctor to take the test because she felt unwell.
“He said the results were positive. I said to him, ‘Okay doctor, that is all I wanted to know.’ I didn’t tell him that I had been raped by several people. I made him to understand that I got it from ordinary sex,” said the witness.
Prosecution lawyer Bärbel Carl asked the witness whether she had expected to test positive for HIV.
The witness replied, “When you are raped by three men that you had never met before, men that are not worthwhile, men who had used no protection, no condom, how could I identify the person who infected me? Might it have been the first, the second, or the third? I don’t know…It’s a sad incident and the test that I had, I was prepared so I took the results like a trooper.”
‘Witness 29’ also explained that she remained strong after testing positive because prior to the rape, she was involved in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS among young people at her local church.
The witness, who testified with protective measures including voice and image distortion, said the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers raped her on March 5, 2003. They found her at home in Mongoumba near Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR).
‘Witness 29’ becomes the second witness in Mr. Bemba’s trial to state in open court that she tested HIV positive after being raped by MLC soldiers. On January 17, 2011, ‘Witness 68’ testified that she discovered she had HIV/AIDS following her rape by the Congolese soldiers. She added, however, that she did not know whether the two men who raped her in October 2002 were the ones who infected her with the virus.
Prosecutors at the ICC charge that MLC soldiers infected Central African women with HIV when they allegedly carried out widespread rape, murder, and plunder in that country during 2002 and 2003. Mr. Bemba is on trial for failing to control his rampaging soldiers, who were in the country to help the then president Ange-Félix Patassé fight off a coup attempt.
In her testimony today, ‘Witness 29’ said the soldiers who raped her spoke the Congolese language Lingala. She said they wore military uniforms similar to those of CAR soldiers but they were not armed.
She said she did not tell her family about the results of her HIV test. “I did not want to reveal the secret. It is shameful, it is very shameful,” she said.
‘Witness 29’ continues her testimony tomorrow morning with cross-examination by the defense.