A victim testifying in the war crimes trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba today said the inconsistencies in her testimony that were pointed out by the defense were the result of “translation errors.”
The defense today questioned the victim about discrepancies between her in-court accounts of rape, murder, and pillaging by members of the armed wing of the Mr. Bemba’s group and statements recorded by International Criminal Court (ICC) officials in 2010.
Pulchérie Makiandakama, also known as Victim a/0866/10, started giving evidence in the Bemba trial yesterday. She recounted the arrival of Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops in her hometown on March 5, 2003. The Congolese soldiers forcefully took her as an interpreter as they advanced on the town, then twice gang-raped her in the vicinity of a military camp in the Central African Republic (CAR).
However, in the victim’s statement recorded by ICC officials in April 2010 and read out by defense lawyer Peter Haynes in court this afternoon, Ms. Makiandakama makes no mention of the rape and is quoted as saying that she was taken into a house by the Congolese soldiers. She also states that outside the house, there were exchanges of gunfire and she lost consciousness when a bullet was fired close to her.
“I didn’t say that. When I was taken they didn’t keep me inside a house. I lost consciousness when they started abusing and brutalizing me,” Ms. Makiandakama responded today. She added that the interpreter did not get her remarks correctly.
Mr. Haynes then asked her why in the same 2010 statement to court officials she did not mention any looting or murders. The victim again attributed the discrepancy between her statement and in-court testimony to translation errors.
“If I could express myself in French, then I am sure she [the ICC official] would have written it down properly,” she replied. “The problem is, I did not understand the language she spoke, and she didn’t understand the language I spoke.”
Yesterday, Ms. Makiandakama described pillaging and murders allegedly carried out by the Congolese fighters at a church, hospital, mayor’s compound, and two civilians’ residences.
Also today, Mr. Haynes questioned the victim about the identity of the perpetrators of crimes in her town. It is the victim’s testimony that there were no Congolese soldiers in Mongoumba before March 5, 2003 and that the first question the unruly troops put to her was to show them the border between Mongoumba and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Furthermore, she said they threatened to kill her because “she would betray them to loyalist forces.”
Asked by Mr. Haynes why anybody from the DRC would ask to be shown the border that they had crossed previously and use the term ‘loyalists’ to refer to opposing forces, she responded that she did not know why the soldiers used those “expressions.” Mongoumba is a port town on the Oubangui River which separates Congo from the CAR.
Mr. Bemba has denied that he had effective command over his armed group but failed to punish or control his rampaging troops deployed in the neighboring country during 2002-2003. His troops were in the country to assist forces loyal to then president Ange-Félix Patassé beat back a rebellion. Mr. Bemba argues that once his troops crossed into the neighboring country, they fell under the direct command of Central African authorities. It is also the accused’s defense that any of the other armed forces active in the Central African conflict at the time, including Chadian and Libyan nationals, as well as the national military and ethnic militia, could have committed the alleged crimes.
The defense continues to question Ms. Makiandakama tomorrow morning.