The trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, today heard of brutalities that Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers visited on civilians in the Central African Republic. A new witness going by the pseudonym ‘Witness 119’ described, among others, the gang-rape of two young girls by a group of soldiers belonging to Mr. Bemba’s group.
‘Witness 119,’ the 14th witness called by the prosecution, testified with protective measures, including face and voice distortion, and gave most of her testimony in private session.
She told the trial presided over by Judge Sylvia Steiner that when MLC troops arrived in her neighborhood on October 28, 2002, rebel forces led by François Bozizé fled the area.
The witness recalled that on the afternoon MLC soldiers arrived, she heard a woman screaming. “They were dragging her, she was screaming. I don’t know what intentions they had. Were they going to kill her? Sleep with her? I don’t know.” The woman was being carried by six Congolese soldiers – three held her by the head and three others by her feet.
While other MLC troops looked on, ‘Witness 119’ approached a soldier she assumed to be their leader because he was carrying a walkie-talkie. The witness did not provide detaisl of her conversation with the alleged leader in open court. However, she stated that he ordered for the woman to be released.
In another incident on the same day, the witness said while seated near the river, she heard girls shouting and calling out. Upon investigation, the witness said she saw two girls being raped by MLC soldiers.
“What I saw was that they took two of the girls, and they put the head of one against the head of the other,” said the witness. “And after that I saw a column of Banyamulenge [MLC soldiers] who were standing one behind the other and two were on top of the girls sleeping with them.”
The witness testified that there were many MLC soldiers in the canal with the two girls “waiting their turn.” The witness said the two girls were bleeding. She added that the girls were also struggling and screaming, “They have killed me. I am dead.” The witness gave further testimony about the event in closed session.
The court also heard that the MLC soldiers stockpiled pillaged goods at Boy-Rabe market and had the place under surveillance by armed guards.
Mr. Bemba, 48, is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for two counts of crimes against humanity and three war crimes resulting from his alleged failure to stop or punish his MLC troops as they committed crimes against the civilian population in the Central African Republic (CAR) between October 2002 and March 2003. The MLC, Bemba’s private militia, were in the CAR at the behest of the then president Ange-Félix Patassé, who was facing a rebellion led by sacked army chief Mr. Bozizé.
‘Witness 119’ continues giving testimony on Monday morning.