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Central African Judge Testifies in Bemba Trial

The trial of former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba resumed today and heard the testimony of a senior investigating judge of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR).

Pamphile Oradimo, the Senior Judge of the Regional Court in Bangui, recounted his investigations into those responsible for crimes committed in his country during the 2002-2003 conflict. He testified in open court without any protective measures.

Under questioning by prosecution lawyer Petra Kneur, Mr. Oradimo, who was appointed in August 2003, recalled that on his first day in office, he found a case file from his country’s prosecutor regarding murder, rape, looting, and financial crimes committed during the conflict. The file implicated a number of individuals, amongst them the country’s former president Ange-Félix Patassé and Mr. Bemba.

Mr. Oradimo stated that whereas his investigation “was to cover the whole of CAR territory,” due to security reasons he confined himself only to the Bangui area. Even then, he said he received threats and anonymous phone calls. “I was protected by bodyguards at home and the work place,” he said.

He narrated that his investigation heard from both victims of the brutalities and suspects. The victims he heard were those referred to him as part of a medical investigation carried out by a unit financed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The unit consisted of a magistrate, two doctors, a psychiatrist, and social workers.

Mr. Oradimo did not recall how many reports he received from the unit and how many victims and witnesses he interviewed in direct relation to these files. “We had people whose parents had been killed, people who had been victims of pillaging, people who received wounds. The people received at the unit were mostly women who were victims of rape,” he said. The questioning of the victims and witnesses lasted over a year, beginning in October 2003 until November 2004. With regard to the suspects in the investigations, Mr. Oradimo stated that only those drawn up on the prosecution’s list were interviewed.

Earlier last month, the trial heard from the Central African Prosecutor–General, Firmin Feindiro, who testified about an investigation into the perpetrators of crimes during the 2002-2003 conflict. The top Bangui prosecutor stated that neither Mr. Bemba nor Mr. Patassé was charged as a result of his probe, although he had recommended that both stand trial in the CAR. The probe by Mr. Oradimo resulted from the recommendations made to the judge by the country’s top prosecutor.

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) charge that Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops raped, pillaged, and murdered civilians during their presence in the CAR at the time of the conflict. Mr. Bemba has pleaded not guilty to all five charges against him.

The trial will continue to hear Mr. Oradimo tomorrow morning.