A prosecution witness stated today that while war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) had a code of conduct for its fighters, these rules were disregarded on the battlefield.
Testifying for the fourth day, ‘Witness 173’ who gave evidence under a pseudonym and with his face concealed from the public, was asked by defense lawyer Aime Kilolo-Musamba how he knew about the group’s disciplinary code.
The witness replied: “I was in contact with their leaders.” He did not say in open court how he came to learn of the disciplinary code from the unnamed leaders.
‘Witness 173’ has previously stated that there were no disciplinary measures taken to rein in Mr. Bemba’s rampaging soldiers during their 2002-2003 campaign in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is on trial over the rape, murder and pillaging allegedly carried out by his fighters. Prosecutors charge that while he was aware that his fighters were brutalizing civilians, he never acted to stop or to punish them.
In his opening statement at the commencement of the trial last November, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Mr. Bemba promulgated a code of conduct which was applicable to all MLC soldiers, but most soldiers were not aware of the existence and content of the code.
“The accused chose not to disseminate the code, not to train his soldiers in respect of the life and property of civilians,” stated the prosecutor. “Particularly, in advance of military engagement, the accused failed to pay due regard to law in his operational decision-making during the 2002-2003 CAR military operation. He failed to issue clear and effective orders to ensure crimes were not committed.”
In his testimony today, ‘Witness 173’ asserted that the MLC were not the only armed force that brutalized Central Africans. According to him, Mr. Bemba’s troops did not arrive in Central African capital Bangui until 3–5 days after the outbreak of clashes between rebels led by Francois Bozizé and the loyalist forces of then president Ange-Félix Mr. Patassé on October 25, 2002. The witness said murders and looting occurred during this time. “The MLC troops killed; the [Patassé] presidential guard troops also killed,” he asserted.
‘Witness 173’ also stated that after the departure of Mr. Bemba’s troops from the country during March 2003, rapes, lootings and murders continued to occur. He said civilians believed to be of Congolese origin or to have collaborated with the MLC were the targets of these acts of violence carried out by the victorious Bozizé forces.
“The Congolese [civilians] were threatened by Bozizé troops. I myself was a victim of these [crimes],” said the witness without elaborating.
The trial continues on Monday, August 29 with further cross-examination of ‘Witness 173’ by the defense.