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Expert: How Bemba Soldiers Used Rape as a Weapon of War

In his second day of testimony, an expert on rape as a tool of war today described to the Jean-Pierre Bemba trial the reasons for use of sexual violence during the 2002-2003 armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Dr. André Tabo, a Central African psychiatrist who treated and assessed numerous women raped during that conflict, defined ‘sexual violence as a tool of war’ as a rape constituting the use of weapons to require a person to engage in a sexual act. He added that generally speaking, the targets of sexual violence of this nature were vulnerable people without defenses, essentially women and young girls.

Dr. Tabo has written a report for the court, which documents the plight of 512 survivors of rape around the CAR capital Bangui, based on his work with them.

Prosecution lawyer Jean-Jacques Badibanga asked the expert what the motivations of the perpetrators of this sexual violence were.

The expert responded that his studies and work with survivors had established four reasons: First, “there is the fact that the victims were considered to be war booty,” he said, explaining that these were defenseless women and girls left behind by their men who had fled due to the conflict. The majority of the survivors he worked with were aged 30 years and below, and at that age women were not only vulnerable but also “attractive.”

Secondly, the women who were attacked needed to be “punished” because they were thought to be in support of enemy troops. Amongst the 512 survivors sampled in the doctor’s report, 42 percent of them were raped in front of their family members. Dr. Tabo stated that perpetrating sexual violence in the presence of others is connected to the “punishment” motivation, particularly if that family member is a husband.”Raping a woman before and in front of a member of her family meant punishing her and humiliating that member of the family,” he stated.

Whereas his work and study did not include any male rape survivors, Dr. Tabo emphasized that the phenomena was the same. “Raping a man in a time of conflict is humiliating him. The need to humiliate trumps the other considerations,” he said. “There is also the concept of punishment.”

The third reason was that as people close to the enemy troops, those attacked were assaulted in order to “destabilize the enemy troops.” According to the expert, the neighborhoods in Bangui, whose residents underwent the most rapes, were in the northern part, which was considered a stronghold of rebels led by Francois Bozizé. As such, the rapes were deemed a proclamation of victory over the opposition, Dr. Tabo said.

The rebels were at the time trying to depose President Ange-Félix Patassé, who called in Mr. Bemba’s troops to help him beat back the rebellion. Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) charge that members of Mr. Bemba’s personal army – the Movement for Liberation of Congo – used rape of both men and women as a weapon of war while they fought alongside Mr. Patassé’s loyalist forces. Prosecutors have also claimed that during these attacks, Congolese soldiers infected Central African women with HIV.

According to Dr. Tabo’s report, 0.6 percent of the rape survivors he treated were under the age of 10, while 27 percent were aged over 40 years.

The professor attributed the fourth motivation behind the rapes as the need for “sexual release” and simply because “the soldiers were out of control and able to do whatever they wanted.”

Also in the report, Dr. Tabo mentioned the impact of the sexual violence. Amongst the survivors, 81 persons were found to be HIV-positive. However, it was found that most of them had the virus prior to the rape. He stated that ten of the survivors were infected during the rape.

In addition, as a consequence of the rape, four women suffered unwanted pregnancies. “One victim did accept the child as being her own and took that on. Another one did not want to have anything to do with the child she gave birth to. The third one had an abortion in hiding, which meant there were medical consequences. We lost track of the fourth,” said the witness.

Although Mr. Bemba was not personally in the CAR, prosecutors argue that he is criminally responsible for the rape, murder, and pillaging carried out by his troops. This is because he reportedly failed to punish or stop the soldiers from committing these crimes, even though he was purportedly aware that they were being committed.

The defense starts its cross-examination of Dr. Tabo tomorrow afternoon.

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