Lawyers representing Jean-Pierre Bemba in his war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today highlighted inconsistencies between the testimony of a prosecution witness and the statements of his spouse.
Mr. Bemba’s defense also questioned ‘Witness 69’ about the differences between the events surrounding his alleged abuse at the hands of soldiers belonging to the accused’s militia, as he described them to prosecution investigators, and how he retold them in court.
‘Witness 69′ started testifying at The Hague-based court on Monday. He told the trial that soldiers belonging to the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) killed his sister, raped his wife, and sodomized him during November 2002. The alleged assault took place in Begua, a town in the Central African Republic (CAR).
The witness stated that during the assault, he sustained a bullet wound to his ankle and that as a result of being kicked and stomped by a soldier, he suffered a permanent vision impairment.
However, in a statement read out in court this afternoon, the wife of the witness was quoted as saying that her husband and children fled their home at 4:00pm on the day the Congolese soldiers arrived in their neighborhood. She asserted that five armed soldiers raped her, while others looted “various possessions” from the home. She said the soldiers later freed her but continued to occupy her home for five months.
“She is a woman; I am a man. She doesn’t know anything. I have full knowledge of the details [of the events],” explained the witness while trying to justify the inconsistencies between the two accounts.
The wife of the witness also made no mention of her husband’s sodomizing or the murder of his sister – two incidents that have been at the center of his testimony. ‘Witness 69’ responded that his wife “had her own story to tell” and that he had his own. “My wife is just as illiterate as I am,” he added.
Furthermore, in a 2008 statement made to prosecution investigators, also read out in court today, the witness was quoted as saying that he was shot in the ankle by Congolese soldiers, that he fell on stones and his left eye got hit. However, in this statement, the witness did not mention his alleged sodomizing.
Asked by defense lawyer Peter Haynes why he did not mention to prosecution investigators that he was sodomized and kicked in the eye, as opposed to falling on stones, ‘Witness 69’ attributed the inconsistency to transcription errors in his oral testimony.
“The person who made up that document got it wrong. People make mistakes,” he said.
Mr. Bemba is the fourth Congolese national on trial at the ICC. He is charged with failure to control or punish his troops as they rampaged in the neighboring country during 2002 and 2003. He has denied three crimes against humanity (murder, rape, and pillaging) and two war crimes (murder and rape).
Also today, Mr. Bemba’s defense contended that an intermediary of a Central African nongovernmental organization that worked with many victims participating in the trial charged fees in order to help them complete their application forms, draw up inventories of lost property, and draft up complaints.
“Would it surprise you that we have heard that people charged money to fill out victims’ application forms? In your area one man who did such a thing was an OCODEFAD intermediary named Emmanuel,” inquired Mr. Haynes.
“I do not know that gentleman; I have never seen him,” replied the witness. He added that “schooled” children of the victims are the ones who helped their parents.
L’Organisation pour la Compassion et le Développement des Familles en Détresse, or OCODEFAD, is an organization founded by Bernadette Sayo, a cabinet minister in the current Central African government. The defense has questioned many prosecution witnesses whether OCODEFAD officials coached them on what to tell ICC investigators.