In the brief moments when he was questioned in open session today, a witness described to the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges that war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Congolese soldiers first went to the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2001.
During cross-examination, defense lawyer Peter Haynes asked ‘witness 63’ whether he had met or talked to any Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers during their first visit to the country in 2001.
The witness replied, “In 2001, we heard talk about them at the river port and that they had gone away.” The port he referred to lies along a river that separates the CAR and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
According to the witness, when Mr. Bemba’s soldiers returned to CAR in 2002, he stealthily followed them as they pursued rebels who were attempting to overthrow then president Ange-Félix Patassé. The witness said last week that he subsequently lived among the MLC soldiers, but he did not say in open court under what circumstances he came to live with them. Since he started testifying nearly a fortnight ago, ‘witness 63’ has given most of his evidence in closed session.
Meanwhile, judges today granted protective measures to ‘witness 209’ who is expected to be the next in the witness stand. Prosecutors requested judges to authorize in-court use of a pseudonym, image and voice distortion, as well as limited private testimony.
The court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) supported the protective measures for the upcoming witness. The VWU stated that it would be desirable to have the hearing in closed session whenever parts of the testimony by ‘witness 209’ would lead to the identity of victims of sexual violence being revealed, which the unit said could lead to their retraumatization and stigmatization.
The judges determined that protective measures were reasonable and proper, as they would enable ‘witness 209’ to continue living in his community without the fear of being threatened or harassed.
Mr. Bemba has denied that he had effective control over his soldiers, who were in the CAR, but failed to stop or to punish them for committing rapes, murders, and looting in there during 2002 and 2003.
Tomorrow, the defense is expected to continue cross-examining ‘witness 63.’