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Bemba’s Commanders Disapproved of Atrocities

The prosecution’s 12th witness, who completed giving evidence today, stated that two commanders in the group led by Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba stated that they disapproved of atrocities soldiers were committing against civilians.

‘Witness 79’ narrated how she and some of her neighbors met with the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) commanders to protest soldiers’ ill treatment of Central African civilians.

During redirect questioning by the prosecution’s Horejah Bala-Gaye, the witness explained that the meeting took place at the home of the local chief in the PK 12 suburb. She said the commanders addressed them in French.

“They said, ‘If you see those people come to the neighborhood and commit violent abuses, know that some are not professional soldiers. These are people who have been given military clothing and weapons to go to the front. So if you see that they are raping women and committing acts of violence, know that these are people who want to pilfer and are not professional soldiers.'” 

The witness did not say in open court who gave weapons to the untrained soldiers. Equally, she did not state the names of the commanders or whether they promised to take action against soldiers who abused civilians. 

Mr. Bemba, 48, is the fourth Congolese national to be tried by International Criminal Court (ICC). He is charged with five crimes stemming from his alleged failure to prevent or punish his MLC soldiers who committed abuses against civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR). Mr. Bemba’s troops were in the neighboring country between October 2002 and March 2003 to help then president Ange-Félix Patassé fight off a coup attempt. 

Like most witnesses before her, ‘Witness 79’ insisted the MLC were the only soldiers in her neighborhood at the time civilians were subjected to abuses. “I didn’t see a presence of other soldiers over and beyond those I have mentioned,” she said.

Under cross-examination by defense counsel Aime Kilolo-Musamba, the witness denied knowledge of any reparations that might be made to victims participating in the trial. The defense attorney read out excerpts from the statement ‘Witness 79’ made to prosecution investigators in which she claimed she had lost 5 million francs. In the statement, she explained that this money was in a suitcase taken by MLC soldiers on the night they raided her house and raped her and her 11 year old daughter. The witness also stated that her house was left “entirely empty” and therefore she claimed for damages suffered amounting to 100 million francs.

 Today, ‘Witness 79’ explained that she was a member of L’Organisation pour la Compassion et le Développement des Familles en Détresse (OCODEFAD), an organization that assisted victims of MLC abuses. She said the founder of this organization took down notes of her story, but she did not know whether OCEDEFAD had sent to the ICC any documents relating to the property she lost. 

OCODEFAD, which was founded by Bernadette Sayo, a cabinet minister in the current Central African government, has assisted many of the victims participating in Mr. Bemba’s trial. The defense has questioned many witnesses whether OCODEFAD officials advised them what to tell court officials.

The trial resumes on Monday, March 7, to hear the testimony of a new witness.