The trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) resumed this week following a six day break. One witness, an expert for the defense, Octave Dioba, testified.
Mr. Dioba has written a 20 page report for judges in which he concludes that the intervention of the accused’s troops in the 2002–2003 Central African armed conflict was “legitimate.” Furthermore, the expert explained that while the troops may have committed some atrocities, Mr. Bemba cannot be held “strategically or politically” responsible for their actions as he had no control over them.
Mr. Dioba’s report and testimony were based on observations from interviews he conducted with former soldiers of the Central African armed forces (FACA) and documents provided by the defense. The expert reached the conclusion that the intervention by Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) troops in the Central African conflict was “legitimate” and partly intended to protect Congo’s national security.
Mr. Bemba is on trial at the ICC for allegedly failing to discipline his soldiers who brutalized civilians during the Central African Republic (CAR) conflict. He has denied the three war crimes and two crimes against humanity charges.
Defense lawyer Aimé Kilolo-Musamba presented excerpts of the Lusaka Agreement before the court. The expert explained that this Agreement was progressively signed starting in July 1999 by heads of states, military movements and international organizations with the aim to ensure stability and security in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Mr. Dioba asserted that this Agreement established the legitimacy of MLC in the CAR. Under the Lusaka Agreement, MLC had the authority to function within its own territory and secure the Congolese northern border. Furthermore, the Agreement recognized MLC as part of the military forces of the Congo.
Mr. Dioba stated that in 2002 the government in Kinshasa did not have authority over the entire country. The MLC and the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) operated autonomously; RCD occupied the eastern territory of the Congo and MLC occupied the northern territory of the Congo. Both MLC and RCD had the ability to lead and carry out the day-to-day activities within their respective regions of the Congo.
The expert reminded the court that it was important to remember the context of the conflict and that coups d’état frequently spotted the history of political rule in the CAR.
While MLC troops were in the CAR, Mr. Dioba stated, they were under the command and control of the general chief of staff of the CAR and only maintained an administrative link to the Congo. The administrative link was not a command or operational one.
The witness stated that Ange-Félix Patassé, as president in 2002, was the supreme leader of the army. Thus, Mr. Patassé had the authority to call upon foreign forces, such as MLC, to counter General François Bozizé’s aggressions.
The witness explained that the Mutual Assistance Pact of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) considered an aggression against any member state an aggression against all member states. Ten states, including the CAR and Congo, had signed the Pact. In turn, rebel forces’ aggressive acts against the CAR constituted aggression against all pact member states. The DRC had a duty to intervene in the CAR and thus, MLC intervention in the CAR was legitimate and legal.
Additionally, the witness explained that the Community of Saharan-Sahel States (CEN-SAD) and the African Union condemned the coup attempts in the CAR. CEN-SAD endorsed the dispatch of foreign troops to ensure stability and restore peace in the country.
Mr. Dioba asserted that contrary to prosecution allegations, Mr. Bemba did not have a personal or strategic interest in sending MLC forces to the CAR because he was a politician and matters outside the DRC would not benefit his political career.
During cross-examination by prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson, sources utilized by the expert for his report were challenged. Most of the cross-examination of the expert was carried out in closed session. However, in open court, the expert stated that in addition to the sources listed in his report, he conducted interviews, and reviewed documents given to him by the defense.
Mr. Iverson noted that the expert concluded that MLC intervention was legitimate despite not being asked to do so. Mr. Dioba explained, “The task was to analyze, in an overall way, the intervention of MLC in the CAR. As an expert, you are not limited in your methodological or analytical tools nor your approach.”
The prosecution concluded its cross-examination of the witness by suggesting that the expert was biased because of various statements in the expert’s report, such as, that he believed Mr. Bemba was a “significant” factor in the stabilization of his country, as well as the expert’s recommendation that the Mr. Bemba should be released. Mr. Dioba responded that he was objective and unbiased and that there was no “norm regarding expert opinion which prohibits suggestions being made.”
On Thursday afternoon, Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson, a legal representative for victims, began her questioning of Mr. Dioba. The expert conceded that he did not travel to CAR for his report because the events had taken place ten years ago, and the sources needed for the report did not require him to visit the country. Mr. Dioba visited the DRC and Cameroon during May and June 2012 to gather information for his report.
The trial resumes on Monday, September 10, with the conclusion of the testimony of Mr. Dioba.
Anne Fuchs is a Human Rights Fellow with the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center. She has been independently observing the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba from The Hague for the past month.