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Central African Top Prosecutor Testifies in Bemba Trial

The trial of war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba today heard from the top prosecutor of the Central African Republic (CAR), who described how they investigated abuses allegedly committed by members of Mr. Bemba’s armed group.

Firmin Feindiro, the Prosecutor-General of the CAR, explained to the court how Central African judicial authorities investigated the perpetrators of crimes in the country, including former president Ange-Félix Patassé, Mr. Bemba, and other CAR government officials.

Mr. Feindiro, who has been a top judicial official for 15 years and was appointed prosecutor for Bangui – capital of the CAR – on August 1, 2003, told the court that in his capacity as prosecutor, he received a letter from his country’s Ministry of Justice tasking him with opening an investigation into the 2002–2003 conflict in his country. He said this letter was accompanied by a report on the number of victims of crimes during that period.

The report was the result from a primarily “medical investigation” carried out by a committee, including the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in partnership with the Central African Ministry of Social Affairs.

Under questioning by prosecution lawyer Ibrahim Yillah, Mr. Feindiro said he subsequently led an inquiry aimed at determining the responsibility of individuals behind various crimes committed in the CAR.

“People had been killed. People had been raped. Possessions had been stolen, looted. People had been injured as well,” stated Mr. Feindiro. Besides, he said, there were crimes committed that were “financial in nature.”

He also told the trial that due to a number of problems, his investigation was not preceded by a preliminary investigation.

“Because of the war, the criminal investigation police was not working. There was no equipment, the army was completely disorganized,” stated Mr. Feindiro, who testified in open court with his face visible. He also gave his name publically, unlike the majority of witnesses who have so far appeared for the prosecution. The witness continued, “The prosecutor had no means available to take people to the places where the violent acts were said to have been committed or provide any security.” He added that victims came forward voluntarily when they heard that the proceedings were underway.

The victims, many of whom were interviewed in the presence of Mr. Feindiro, came from numerous neighborhoods in and around Bangui. He said most of them were “disturbed.” Some had medical results with positive diagnosis for HIV/AIDS. Others had speech difficulties and broke down during examination because of the rape and other abuses they had endured at the hands of soldiers they believed to be from Mr. Bemba’s group.

Mr. Bemba was initially charged in absentia by Central African authorities before his case was referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) because that country’s judicial officials claimed they did not have the capacity to arrest and try him. Prosecutors at the ICC charge that Mr. Bemba’s troops raped, pillaged, and murdered civilians during their presence in the CAR at the time of the conflict. The crimes are alleged to have been committed in Bangui and its surrounding areas.

In his testimony today, Mr. Feindiro described how the prosecution office in the CAR identified and interviewed witnesses and victims, leading to the conclusion by the country’s prosecution about the individuals they believed were responsible for the crimes in Bangui and surrounding areas during 2002 and 2003.

The prosecution will continue to question Mr. Feindiro tomorrow morning.