In his fourth day of testimony, the Prosecutor-General of the Central African Republic (CAR) stated that a judicial probe conducted under his direction concluded that former president Ange-Félix Patassé had overall command of armed forces in the country at the time of the 2002-2003 conflict. In effect, the probe gave former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba subordinate responsibility over the soldiers that brutalized civilians.
Firmin Feindiro told the trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that his investigation, which commenced in August 2003 and lasted “several months,” heard from more than 300 victims and about the same number of witnesses to the atrocities mainly committed in the country’s capital Bangui.
Among the witnesses were Central African military authorities, who explained how orders were given during the campaign Mr. Patassé’s forces and allied groups including Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) undertook against an armed rebellion that sought to overthrow Mr. Patassé.
Based on interviews with victims and witnesses, Mr. Feindiro reached conclusions about individuals he deemed culpable for the crimes. The dossier containing his conclusions, which is now part of the evidence at the ICC trial, was the focus of today’s defense questioning.
In the dossier, the Prosecutor-General stated that Mr. Patassé, as then Central African president, leader of the national armed forces, and chair of the High Council of the National Defense, was the hierarchical leader of the armed forces and the foreign mercenaries who fought on their side. The Prosecutor classified the MLC as one of these allied foreign mercenary forces.
Mr. Feindiro’s dossier also noted that in a speech delivered to Central Africans on November 29, 2002, Mr. Patassé stated that he had indeed called upon Mr. Bemba’s MLC troops to give his loyalist forces a hand in fighting off a coup attempt. According to excerpts read out in court by the defense and acknowledged by the witness, Mr. Patassé stated in that speech that he knew that crimes had been committed and that as a consequence, he was going to establish a commission to “assess all that.”
As such, according to the dossier, the Feindiro-led judicial investigation concluded that “while the fact that he [Bemba] sent his troops in at the request of Patassé – this fact is not being challenged [but] he has not been shown to be involved in their use on the field and it is therefore fitting to exclude him.”
Yesterday, Mr. Feindiro stated that no material or physical responsibility charges for the conduct of the MLC troops were brought before his country’s examining judge; only “intellectual responsibility” was considered. He said that it was for the intellectual responsibility of the alleged crimes that Mr. Bemba and other co-perpetrators were found by Central African prosecutors to be criminally responsible. However, even the attempt by his office to try Mr. Bemba with these charges failed.
Prosecutors of the ICC charge that Mr. Bemba as military commander had effective command over the MLC forces as they allegedly raped, murdered, and plundered civilians of the CAR. The prosecutors claim that he knew that MLC forces were committing or about to commit crimes but he failed to take “all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent or stop crimes” being committed by MLC forces.
Mr.Bemba has denied all the charges against him, arguing that once the MLC fighters crossed the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo into the CAR, they were under the command of Mr. Patassé, and that it is him who should be in the dock at the ICC.
Mr. Feindiro’s probe concluded that once the MLC were in Bangui, they were under the orders of Mr. Patassé through the direct command of Ferdinand Bombayake. The United Presidential Security (USP) led by General Bombayake was the only one of the Central African armed forces found by the country’s judicial probe to have worked with the MLC. This was because Mr. Patassé entirely trusted Bombayake but had no trust in the Forces Armées Centrafricain (FACA), the country’s regular army, which he suspected of being part of the coup attempt against him.
The CAR Prosecutor-General’s report stated that Mr. Patassé coordinated the military operations against the insurgents. “When an offensive or counter-offensive was organized, it was the president that organized it…This has been borne out by General Bombayake who maintained that it was Patassé who decided on everything and that he [Bombayake] would only implement the instructions receive,” it said.
The defense today also read out excerpts from Mr. Feindiro’s statement to ICC prosecution investigators in which he claimed the MLC received payment from the Central African treasury. He is reported as saying that the payment was authorized by Mr. Patassé and his Prime Minister Martin Ziguélé.
The defense continues its cross-examination of Mr. Feindiro when the trial resumes on Monday next week.