A geopolitical expert has said indicted Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba’s top commander deployed in the armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) took orders from that country’s army chief.
Octave Dioba, who is the second witness called in defense of the war crimes accused, said Mustafa Mukiza, the commander of the Movement for Liberation of Congo (MLC) contingent involved in the conflict, followed orders from the Central African army chief of staff and his deputies.
The expert also explained that while some MLC troops may have attacked civilians, “Bemba cannot be held strategically or politically responsible since he neither controlled the troops nor had policy making powers. Such powers [were] in the hands of CAR authorities.”
Furthermore, the expert compared Mr. Bemba’s fighters to UN peacekeepers, saying once a country contributes troops, they fall under the command of the UN and not that of their respective national forces. In the same way, he said, the MLC fell under the command and responsibility of Central African military authorities once they were deployed in the conflict country.
Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) charge that Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Congo, took no action as his fighters pillaged, murdered, and raped Central African civilians between October 2002 and March 2003. The 1,500 Congolese troops were in the neighboring country to assist its then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, beat back a rebellion.
Whereas prosecutors contend that Mr. Bemba maintained effective command and control over his troops on the frontline, he denies this. He counters that the fighters were under the command of Mr. Patassé’s authority, and that he did not have the means to command them while they remained in the conflict country.
Meanwhile, Mr. Dioba today conceded that he did not travel to the scene of the conflict as part of his research. He said he visited the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Cameroon during May and June this year to collect data and interview some individuals for the purposes of writing a report for the court. He said he last traveled to the CAR in 2009 as part of a separate research assignment.
Mr. Dioba is a researcher with a background in geopolitical and strategic studies. He has written a report for the court in which he concludes that the intervention by Mr. Bemba’s troops in the Central African conflict was “legitimate” and partly intended to protect Congo’s national security.
In his earlier testimony, the expert gave a background on the armed conflict and also described the troubled political history of both the Congo and the CAR. He stated that his report is based on literature, documents given to him by the defense and key informant interviews. The witness disclosed the names of the persons he interviewed in private session.
This afternoon, Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson, a lawyer representing victims participating in the trial, asked the expert why he did not travel to the country, which was “the theatre of operations.”
Mr. Dioba answered: “The events we are discussing today took place 10 years ago. The research tools used by an expert at this level are sources and you do not need to travel to the CAR for those sources.”
Also today, prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson questioned the expert about his conclusion that the accused could not be held responsible for the command of his troops in the neighboring country as he was never in the field, and that they fell “under the strategic and political responsibility” of Central African authorities. The prosecution lawyer also took issue with the expert’s conclusion that Mr. Bemba was a “significant” factor in the stabilization of his country, as well as the expert’s recommendation in his oral testimony that the accused should be released.
Mr. Iverson suggested the witness was biased and not independent. “I would suggest that you are using the witness stand to advocate your own agenda,” he put it to the expert.
“There is no norm regarding expert opinion which prohibits suggestions being made,” responded Mr. Dioba.
The hearing continues on Monday morning with further cross-examination of the geopolitical expert by victims’ lawyers.