Today, the 35th witness called by prosecutors in the war crimes trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) recounted how soldiers belonging to the former Congolese vice president’s militia sodomized him and his wife.
The witness, who started giving testimony this morning, said his sister was shot dead by two Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) fighters. “She was killed like an animal, like a dog,” said ‘Witness 69.’
The witness testified with his voice and image distorted from the public and gave most of his evidence in closed session. In addition, following an assessment from the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU), he testified with the help of an in-court support assistant.
The witness stated that Mr. Bemba’s soldiers “invaded” Begua, a town in the Central African Republic (CAR), on November 8, 2002, set up a base at the local school, and dug trenches stretching to Point Kilomètre 13, or PK13, a suburb of the country’s capital Bangui.
‘Witness 69’ said that armed soldiers from the accused’s group, who were dressed in military uniform and spoke Lingala, a language native to the Congo, attacked his sister “with the view of taking money off her” on November 9, 2002. “They grabbed hold of her and shot her,” he said.
Prosecution lawyer Thomas Bifwoli presented a death certificate of this individual as evidence. The certificate indicated the date of death as January 10, 2002. Asked by Mr. Bifwoli about the discrepancy in the dates, the witness responded that this was an error.
“It was a mistake made by the people who issued the document. I cannot read, I only retrieved the document. I was not careful about the information contained [in it],” explained the witness. The death certificate was issued by the CAR authorities.
The witness recounted that following the death of his sister, six MLC soldiers attacked him and his wife at their home. “They grabbed me and took me to one of the bedrooms…they ordered me to lie down. One of them came and sodomized me,” the witness stated. “Bemba’s men humiliated me.”
He added that on the same day, Mr. Bemba’s fighters raped his wife: “It was only after two weeks that she could stand up on her own.”
He added, ‘My family is completely destroyed. My wife, my children, we were subjected to this. Up until now, I still suffer from the consequences of these crimes, and I have given all of this into the hands of God.”
Prosecutors charge that up to 1,500 soldiers commanded by Mr. Bemba raped, murdered, and pillaged civilians in the neighboring CAR during that country’s conflict in 2002 and 2003.
In his statement at the start of the trial last November, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo stated that MLC soldiers raped Central African men so as to destroy their authority and their capacity to lead. “The message behind these rapes was particularly evident from MLC’s targeted and selective raping of men, men in positions of authority, community leaders, and protectors of the communities,” he said.
The prosecution contends that Mr. Bemba knew that his troops were committing crimes but he did not take “all necessary and reasonable measures within his power to prevent or repress their commission.” Mr. Bemba has pleaded not guilty to all five charges he is charged with.
The trial continues to hear the testimony of ‘Witness 69’ tomorrow morning.