A defense witness has denied suggestions by the prosecution that he might have received payment in order to testify for Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former Congolese senator on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The former gendarme in the Central African Republic (CAR), who is testifying under the pseudonym ‘Witness D04-51,’ was asked by prosecution lawyer Thomas Bifwoli: “Have you received any payment on Bemba’s behalf?”
When the witness answered that he had not received any such payment, the prosecuting lawyer asked if he had received any payment from the court.
“No, not even the court,” the witness replied. “When I arrived, they gave me 44 Euros. I wanted to say no, I asked why they were giving me money. They said that’s your cigarette money…basically it’s money for minor expenses.”
Mr. Bifwoli then asked ‘Witness D04-51’ whether any promises were made to him in exchange for his testimony. The witness said before he traveled to The Hague, he discussed with an official of the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) the possibility of being compensated the income he would lose because of staying away from his workplace. The official told him they would look at his work schedule and consider compensating him.
‘Witness D04-51’ said he currently works as a train driver in France and is paid according to the number of hours he works. He also said Mr. Bemba’s defense team met him once in Paris, and once he agreed to give testimony, all arrangements for his travel and stay in The Hague were taken over by the VWU.
During further questioning of the witness, including whether he received a reimbursement when he met the defense team in Paris, Mr. Bifwoli requested that the court turns into private session.
Meanwhile, ‘Witness D04-51’ also said he heard over the Central African radio station Ndeke Luka that crimes, such as rapes, killings, and plunder, were being committed by rebels led by François Bozizé as well as by Mr. Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) fighters. He added, however, that in the confused state of affairs during the 2002-2003 armed conflict, it was difficult to tell who was committing the crimes.
The witness said he was upset when he heard on the radio that the MLC soldiers were committing atrocities. “How could they rape our sisters? That upsets me, it angers me as well,” he said. However, he did not personally witness the commission of those crimes. ‘Witness D04-51’ also testified that on October 25, 2002, the Bozizé rebels pillaged his home and killed his brother.
Victims’ lawyer Assingambi Zarambaud asked the witness whether he had heard of the looting of music equipment at the Support Regiment by the MLC. He also claimed the MLC had arrested Central African soldiers, undressed them, beat them up and took their weapons. The witness responded that whereas he has heard of the looting of the music equipment, he was hearing of the harassment of the 30 soldiers for the first time.
Mr. Bemba has been charged with murder, rape, and pillaging at the ICC. Prosecutors allege that he failed to stop or punish his fighters who brutalized Central African civilians. He has pleaded not guilty in the trial that started in November 2010. His defense case commenced in August 2012 and has so far seen nine witnesses testify on his behalf, out of a proposed total of 64.
The trial continues next Monday morning with the testimony of a new witness.