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Bemba Prosecutors Call Expert on Sexual Violence As a Weapon of War

The prosecution in the war crimes trial of former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba today called its 18th witness, an expert on sexual violence as a tool of war. Dr. André Tabo is a specialist in adult psychiatry and head the psychiatry department at Centre National Hospitalier Universitaire de Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Dr. Tabo, who also teaches psychiatry and medical psychology at the University of Bangui’s faculty of health sciences, described to the judges his work with survivors of sexual violence during the 2002-2003 armed conflict in the CAR. Since 2006, Dr. Tabo has worked as a psychiatric expert for Central African courts.

Following the end of the conflict in March 2003, Mr. Tabo served on a multi-disciplinary team comprising of doctors, psychologists, lawyers, and social workers that drew up a list of sexual violence survivors in Bagui, the capital of the CAR. Besides identifying medical problems arising from the sexual violence, the team was tasked with providing medical care and psychological support to the survivors under a project funded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Subsequent to this, Dr. Taboworked as an unpaid consultant with L’Organisation pour la Compassion et le Développement des Familles en Détresse (OCODEFAD), providing social support for its members who had suffered sexual violence. At the time, the psychology department at the university hospital, which Dr. Tabo led, offered the only psychiatric service in the country. OCODEFAD, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) founded by Bernadette Sayo, a cabinet minister in the current Central African government, has helped rape survivors file applications to participate in Mr. Bemba’s trial.

In a separate May 2006 program led by the United Nations Population Fund, Dr. Tabo assessed the social and medical situation of 192 survivors of sexual violence in eight localities around Bangui.

“I was responsible for building the capacity of the medical and health care staff working in the eight localities in question. I was to give them training so that they could providethe care and treatment that the victims of sexual violence needed. This was both medical care and also psycho-social support,” said the witness.

Dr. Tabo, who was also referred to as ‘Witness 229,’ told the court that “several victims in Bangui” learned that they could call on his services and as “the only psychologist in the country” his department continues to offer them medical and psychological treatment.

However, due to a culture of stigmatization and ostracization, the number of victims seeking follow-up had shrunk.

“I believe that just over 300 people had begun with this treatment, and there is only 150 or so left,” said the witness.

Dr. Tabo becomes the third expert witness to give evidence in the trial presided over by Judge Sylvia Steiner at The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC). The first expert witness, Dr. Adeyinka Akinsulure-Smith, a counseling psychologist, appeared in the first week of the trial last November. She testified about post-traumatic stress disorder among Central African rape victims. Last month, William Samarin, a professor of linguistics and anthropology with a specialty in Sango, a language spoken in the CAR, testified as the second expert witness.

Mr. Bemba is on trial at the ICC for failing to stop or punish his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers as they raped, murdered, and looted during the conflict.

Meanwhile, earlier today Firmin Feindiro, the Central African Prosecutor-General, completed giving evidence. In his week long testimony, Mr. Feindiro told the court about an inquiry he led into crimes committed during the 2002–2003 conflict. The probe included abuses allegedly committed by Mr. Bemba’s armed group.

Dr. Tabo continues testifying tomorrow morning.