Octave Dioba, the geopolitical expert who testified in the defense of Jean-Pierre Bemba last week, today completed giving evidence in the trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The expert affirmed that the political and strategic responsibility for acts of violence perpetrated against civilians did not lie with the accused. If the troops Mr. Bemba had placed at the “disposal” of the neighboring country’s leaders indeed committed crimes, then responsibility lay with those authorities.
“Mr. Bemba was not a member of the CAR [Central African Republic] supreme military command. He can not be held liable for acts of violence. The Central African military command was mostly responsible for the operational aspects of troops,” said the expert.
Mr. Dioba was the second witness called by the defense of Mr. Bemba, who denies all five charges against him. He is accused of failing to stop or punish his soldiers who allegedly murdered, raped, and pillaged against the civilian population during their deployment in an armed conflict in the CAR. The troops were invited into the country by its then president, Ange-Félix Patassé, who faced an armed insurrection.
A specialist in African geopolitical and strategic issues, Mr. Dioba said the intervention by the MLC was “legitimate” as the 1999 Lusaka agreement had recognized them as a part of Congo’s national military.
Furthermore, it was in the interest of Congo’s national security and in fulfillment of a mutual assistance pact between members of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), that the MLC honored the invitation to assist Mr. Patassé’s government.
According to the expert, the Congolese troops followed orders from the Central African army chief of staff and his deputies during their five month deployment.
The expert based his conclusions on various sources including literature, documents provided to him by the defense and interviews conducted with key informants.
When asked today by victims’ lawyer Assingambi Zarambaud whether he reviewed any official documents calling upon Mr. Bemba’s troops to intervene in the conflict, the expert replied in the negative. He stated that he only had oral sources that revealed a “high level diplomatic” telephone request from Mr. Patassé to the accused. The identities of these sources were disclosed in closed session.
Mr. Dioba also said he did not know whether the CAR national constitution provided for the intervention of foreign forces or whether Mr. Patassé obtained parliamentary authority before inviting the Congolese troops.
“President Patassé used his prerogative and the MLC used political provisions in the Lusaka agreement,” said the expert.
Hearings continue tomorrow morning with testimony of a new witness going by the pseudonym ‘Witness 60.’