A Central African judge said today that his investigations failed to find sufficient evidence implicating former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba in crimes allegedly committed by his troops during 2002 and 2003. The judge said for this reason, and also to not antagonize neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), he ordered the dismissal of charges that his country’s top prosecutor sought to bring against Mr. Bemba.
Defense lawyer Aime Kilolo-Musamba asked Pamphile Oradimo, the Senior Judge of the Regional Court in Bangui, what the legal basis of his order to dismiss the charges was.
“The legal foundation is because he was the vice president of the DRC, and I was not able to question him, and I didn’t have enough evidence in order to be able to determine whether or not he was liable,” replied Mr. Oradimo.
However, while the Central African judge ordered the charges against Mr. Bemba to be dismissed, he sanctioned charges against several other individuals. These included Ange-Félix Patassé, who as president of the Central African Republic (CAR) invited Mr. Bemba’s forces to help him fight off a coup attempt, as well as General Ferdinand Bombayake, who headed Mr. Patassé’s presidential guard.
In court today, the defense attorney read out excerpts of an appeal that the Central African prosecutor filed against the order by Mr. Oradimo for dismissal of the cases against Mr. Bemba. The document mentioned the lack of sufficient evidence, Mr. Bemba’s involvement not having amounted to criminal activity, and the CAR’s amnesty law. He asked the witness whether these were indeed the reasons why he issued the dismissal order.
Mr. Oradimo responded, “The work which we did was not only concerning accusations against Bemba. If you go through the investigation [report], you will see that there are very few people who talk about Mr. Bemba’s actions in the country. The answer we had is that people didn’t know.”
The witness continued, “We also heard that the contact between Bemba and Patassé was discrete so people didn’t know what he had done, or [was] accused of doing in the CAR. So in the file there is very little that can be seen as counts against Mr. Bemba.”
Mr. Bemba stands accused of failing to rein in his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops, who prosecutors of the International Criminal Court allege carried out massive rapes, killings, and looting in CAR. Although Mr. Bemba was not in the CAR at the time his troops allegedly brutalized civilians, prosecutors claim he was aware of their misconduct but did not move to stop or to punish them.
In his report to the ICC, the CAR Prosecutor-General, Firmin Feindiro, stated that Mr. Patassé – not Mr. Bemba – had command responsibility over the MLC forces who were in the CAR at the time. “When an offensive or counteroffensive 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 received,” he said his report.
According to the probe by Mr. Feindiro, Mr. Bombayake’s unit was the only one of the Central African armed forces who worked with the MLC. Part of a document apparently authored by Mr. Feindiro, which defense counsel Kilolo-Musamba read out today, stated that since the MLC were under the command of Mr. Bombayake, they could not have killed, raped, or looted except under his instructions.