William Samarin, a professor of linguistics and anthropology at the University of Toronto, Canada, today testified as an expert witness in the trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba.
With more than 50 years of experience in the field of linguistics, Mr. Samarin has written a report for the court, which compares Sango, a language spoken in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Lingala, which is spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The report, drawing from material provided by the court’s prosecutors and other literature, highlights similarities and differences between the two languages.
Several prosecution witnesses have testified that soldiers from the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) were the perpetrators of the widespread rape, murder, and plunder in the CAR between October 2002 and March 2003. The MLC soldiers, who were present in the country at the time to help the country’s then president Ange-Félix Patassé fight off a coup attempt, were purportedly recognized primarily by the language they spoke. These witnesses have stated that soldiers who brutalized civilians spoke Lingala and not Sango.
Mr. Bemba, the fourth Congolese national on trial at The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), is charged with failing to stop and to punish his MLC troops, who allegedly committed these crimes.
Besides victims and witnesses to alleged crimes, the court accepts persons whose education, training, and experience can provide an assessment, opinion, or judgment within an area of expertise to testify.
The prosecution, among its 40 proposed witnesses, is due to call an expert on sexual violence as a tool of war and another on military command structure. Dr. Adeyinka Akinsulure-Smith, a counseling psychologist, was the first expert witness to testify in the trial. When she appeared last November, she testified about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among Central African Rape victims.
Under questioning by prosecution lawyer Jean-Jacques Badibanga, Professor Samarin said he possessed experience in descriptive linguistics, acoustics, cognitive linguistics, and anthropological linguistics of various Bantu languages. He said these disciplines deal with how people use language in different circumstance and how language variations correlate. Bantu languages are widely spoken across East, Southern, and Central Africa. Professor Samarin said most of his study was on languages and dialects spoken in the CAR.
Meanwhile, earlier today, ‘Witness 119’ completed giving testimony. The witness who started testifying last Friday gave the bulk of her evidence in closed session.
Professor Samarin continues testifying tomorrow afternoon.