The latest witness to testify for former Congolese senator Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday stated that the accused set up a court martial in 2002 to uphold military discipline amongst his soldiers. Furthermore, the witness who testified under the pseudonym ‘Witness D04-016’ stated that discipline among Mr. Bemba’s soldiers was “good” and in accordance with a strict code of conduct.
‘Witness D04-016’ stated that, by decree, Mr. Bemba set up a court martial in Gbadolite in the Democratic Republic of Congo as early as February 2002. The court was presided over by a career magistrate, who had been appointed by Congolese authorities before Mr. Bemba’s group assumed administrative control over the territory. “It had jurisdiction over all MLC (Movement for the Liberation of Congo) soldiers irrespective of rank,” said the witness.
‘Witness D04-016’ testified with his image and voice distorted in public transmissions of his testimony. Most of his evidence was heard in private session in order to keep his identity secret.
According to the witness, prior to the formation of the court martial, there was “an ordinary military court for common criminal offences.” Offenses such as insubordination, poor time keeping, and absence from daily duty were brought before this court. Upon establishment, he said, the court martial dealt with “severe” offenses, such as threats against civilians, treason, and vandalism.
‘Witness D04-16’ stated that, in both courts, cases of misconduct by MLC soldiers were dealt with in accordance with the group’s code of conduct. “One needed only refer to this and provide soldiers with the opportunity to explain their acts. When it had been established that this was a voluntary violation of discipline, then the individual would be punished,” he said.
The witness explained that frequent training sessions relating to the code of conduct were organized for all units, both at the frontline and operational levels. “Standards of discipline in the MLC were good. In some isolated cases, individuals failed to obey rules and that is why the court martial was set up to administer justice,” said the former insider.
‘Witness D04-16’ also said that hearings in the court martial were open to the public and judges played an impartial role. Individuals facing charges were represented by lawyers who participated in all proceedings against the suspects.
“After evidence and submissions were made, judges would conduct deliberations and via secret ballot decide on the sentence to be passed down for each suspect,” said the witness.
Mr. Bemba, 50, has pleaded not guilty to charges of neglecting his duties as a commander. Charges against him stem from his alleged failure to rein in his soldiers, who prosecutors say committed rapes, murders, and pillaging during their deployment in a conflict in the Central African Republic. The crimes were allegedly committed between October 2002 and March 2003.
Prosecutors further allege that the accused arranged sham trials for low ranking officers in order to “satisfy the demands of the international community,” and also claim the group’s code of conduct was neither known to most soldiers nor enforced by the group.
Hearings continue tomorrow morning with further testimony by ‘Witness D04-016.’