The current witness in Jean-Pierre Bemba’s war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today continued to testify in private session. On Tuesday, ‘Witness 63,’ who first appeared last week, was allowed by judges to give nearly all his testimony behind closed doors. According to Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner, this was to enable the witness to “feel free to speak.” She also reassured the witness that while testifying in closed session, there would be no possibility for people outside the courtroom to hear what he was saying.
The witness had earlier been granted several protective measures, such as the use of a pseudonym, image and voice distortion, and “limited private session where the witness gives information that tends to disclose his identification.” Judges deemed these measures necessary in order to enable the witness to continue living in his community without being harassed. Additionally, following a recommendation by the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) regarding his level of literacy, ‘Witness 63’ was granted in-court assistance from a VWU official.
Yesterday, ‘Witness 63’ told the trial that Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers plundered homes, churches, and shops in the Central African Republic (CAR) town of Damara near the capital Bangui. He also stated that these soldiers killed some civilians they accused of supporting rebels who were attempting to topple then president Ange-Félix Patassé. Last Thursday, he said the MLC used child soldiers, as well as described how the Congolese fighters robbed cell phones from civilians and then exchanged them for alcohol.
Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has denied charges that he failed to control his soldiers who carried out mass rapes, killings, and plunder during their expedition in the CAR during 2002 and 2003.