Today, the eleventh witness to testify for Jean-Pierre Bemba completed giving evidence at the International Criminal Court (ICC), with most of his concluding testimony heard in closed session.
In the brief moments of open court, ‘Witness 48′ said he could not confirm or deny the claim by a former senior official of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) that Mr. Bemba dismissed as “propaganda” reports of his troops’ alleged acts of violence. The reports were carried by French broadcaster Radio France Internationale (RFI).
The witness was being questioned by Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson, a lawyer representing victims in the trial, about Mr. Bemba’s attitude towards reports of his soldiers’ misconduct. The victims’ lawyer quoted an unnamed former MLC insider who allegedly spoke to the accused about incidents of rape, murder, and pillaging by his troops.
A statement by this unnamed person, which Ms. Douzima-Lawson read out in court, quoted the official as saying Mr. Bemba was “in the habit of denying everything” and also that “he [Bemba] thought France wanted his head.”
‘Witness 48′ said: “This statement was made by someone else. I have no opinion on it. I can’t say what was said between him and Bemba, I wasn’t there.”
Subsequent questioning of the witness was done in private session. Assingambi Zarambaud, another victims’ lawyer, also questioned the witness in closed session.
Since the start of his testimony on Tuesday, ‘Witness 48’ has recalled that upon his advice, Mr. Bemba in 2001 set up a military justice system to try crimes committed by his soldiers. The witness said that convicted soldiers served the full sentences handed to them. He testified with image and voice distortion in order to protect his identity, and most of his testimony was heard in closed session.
Mr. Bemba is charged with two crimes against humanity and three war crimes allegedly committed in the Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003. The former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo has acknowledged the presence of his troops in the neighbouring country to assist its then president Ange-Félix Patassé stave off a coup attempt. However, he has denied prosecution charges that he had effective command and control over his troops during this period but failed to take the necessary measures to rein them in.
Hearings in the trial are scheduled to continue on Monday, November 19, with the testimony of a new defense witness.