Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba’s troops gang-raped women on the ferry that transported them to the Central African Republic (CAR), according to testimony heard today.
Cyprien-Francis Ossibouyen, the technician who operated the state-owned ferry that plied the Oubangui river, told the trial that he witnessed a second gang-rape incident at a naval base.
He narrated how 22 armed Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers treated Central African women “like animals.”
The soldiers arrived at the port in the Central African capital Bangui, along with eight females, the oldest of which the witness estimated was 60 years. The youngest could have been 13 years old, he said.
The soldiers ordered Mr. Ossibouyen to transport them across the river to Zongo town in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However, when he informed the soldiers that he did not have the key to start the ferry, the troops forced the women onto the ferry while kicking and hitting them with rifle butts.
“Those women had been terrorized, they had bodily injuries on them,” the witness recalled. “Some of them had no clothes on, they were naked.”
“The militia took off their [women’s] underwear and bras and they opened their zips. As soon as one person would finish, he would get up and another person would come and sleep with that very same woman,” recounted Mr. Ossibouyen.
He continued: “These horrible things took place in the afternoon. The sun was still up. I didn’t need a torch light to see what was going on. That, in fact, is what overwhelmed me.”
The witness broke down during testimony, prompting a momentary halt to the hearing.
The Congolese soldiers told the witness that they abducted the women from the Bangui neighborhood of Boy-Rabé.
Mr. Ossibouyen, who also goes by court-given name ‘Witness 47,’ testified yesterday that for 19 consecutive days starting October 2002, he transported MLC soldiers from their Congolese stronghold of Zongo to Bangui. He said that on some occasions he transported Mr. Bemba.
Mr. Bemba is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for failing to stop or punish the MLC troops he commanded as they brutalized Central African civilians between October 2002 and March 2003. He has denied the three crimes against humanity (murder, rape, and pillage) and two war crimes (murder and rape) he faces.
Today, the witness testified that on a second occasion he witnessed MLC soldiers gang-raping Central African women at a naval base located 100 meters from where he docked the ferry. He said a group comprising of between 25 and 30 soldiers arrived at the base with an estimated eight to 12 “young and elderly women” who they then raped.
“One girl was calling out for her father: ‘Papa, papa where are you?’ Another: ‘I am dead’,” recalled the witness.
He said like the group of women who gang-raped from the ferry, the women who were brutalized at the naval base had been taken captive by MLC fighters when they raided a sector of Bangui.
“How were you feeling witnessing these acts?” asked prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson.
“I was in a state of fear, of panic, of frustration, and I also felt ashamed. But in the face of these women, I could not show my weakness,” answered the witness.
“Once the act was committed, the women would be left shouting and crying out for help. I was able to comfort two of them,” he said. The women told him the soldiers had grabbed them from the fourth district and the PK 12 suburb.
The prosecution continues its questioning of Mr. Ossibouyen on Monday morning.