A former member of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) was today questioned by Jean-Pierre Bemba’s defense about the code of conduct that the group followed at the time its soldiers allegedly committed war crimes.
The former insider, who is testifying under the pseudonym ‘Witness 32,’ read out various articles from the code at the request of defense counsel, Aime Kilolo-Musamba. However, the import of this reading was not clear, as subsequent questioning was done in closed session.
While International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors allege that war crimes accused Bemba did not make his troops aware of the group’s code of conduct, he counters that he actually used the code to discipline errant soldiers. Mr. Bemba is on trial for purportedly failing to take action, as the commander-in-chief of the MLC, against his soldiers who allegedly committed mass rapes, killings, and plunder in the Central African Republic (CAR) during 2002 and 2003.
‘Witness 32’ testified that like all other armed groups, the MLC had a code of conduct whose stated objectives were to “improve the military activities within the MLC with a view to meeting the expectations of the people; guide, strengthen, and improve the army’s actions in order to increase its power and capacity; and protect the morale of soldiers during war.”
The witness read out sections of the code dealing with mutineers and disciplinary measures to be taken against soldiers who grabbed property from civilians. He said the code had to be respected and applied at all levels of the MLC.
Mr. Kilolo-Musamba also asked the witness about an individual known as ‘Bravo Charlie’ who the defense counsel claimed was suspected of “treason, spying in collaboration with enemies of the MLC.”
Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner intervened before the witness could respond. “When you talk about treason, what state are you talking about? The Democratic Republic of Congo?” asked the judge. “And spying with enemies suspected of treason – treason against whom?”
Before the defense counsel could answer, the hearing reverted to closed session.
The defense continues cross-examining ‘Witness 32’ tomorrow morning.