The sixteenth witness to testify for Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday denied that he carried into the courtroom a “script” to guide his testimony. Rather, ‘Witness D04-45’ said he wrote down the notes in order “to be able to refer to something” as he was testifying.
Furthermore, the witness stated that during the familiarization process prior to the start of his testimony, court officials did not provide him any instructions to the effect that he should not appear with notes.
“I am a military officer and whenever I attend a meeting or discuss something, it is necessary for me to take down notes. In the waiting room here, I started taking notes and when I got into the courtroom, the officer was here, I was not hiding those notes, and no one told me not to have notes,” he said.
This witness started giving evidence in the war crimes trial last Wednesday. He is testifying via video link from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. During public broadcasts of his testimony, his face and voice are distorted in order to conceal his identity.
The witness has previously testified about the arrival of the 28th battalion of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) in the Central African Republic (CAR) on October 28, 2002 and also stated that the foreign fighters received communications equipment from that country’s army. He said the Congolese troops were “integrated” into the national army and Central African generals commanded joint operations against insurgents. The witness also said he was not aware of any crimes committed by Mr. Bemba’s troops.
The prosecution’s cross-examination of the witness started on Monday. It appears that during closed session yesterday, judges noticed that the witness had handwritten notes with him. Court officials made copies of the notes, and the witness was asked to read excerpts of the notes in court this morning.
Among the notes written down were details of his contact with Mr. Bemba’s lawyers, crimes perpetuated by members of François Bozizé’s rebel force “most of whom spoke Lingala,” and the provision of communications equipment to the foreign fighters by the central African army.
Other notes related to the “scouting mission” MLC soldiers made to the conflict country on October 26, 2002, the arrival of the Congolese fighters, and the command structures of the joint forces comprising the accused’s soldiers and the CAR armed forces.
“Some of the information you wrote down happens to be the same issues that are in dispute in this trial. You would have no way of knowing they were in dispute unless someone is briefing you. Who was it?” asked prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson.
“I wrote those notes. Nobody gave me any information,” replied the witness. “I saw, and I was familiar with what happened.”
“Were you paid to say anything you have said in your testimony?” continued Mr. Iverson.
The witness replied, “I did not receive any money from anyone.”
The MLC’s 28th battalion, in which the witness served, was one of two contingents of the accused’s fighters that prosecutors charge went on a rampage once deployed in the 2002–2003 Central African armed conflict. Several prosecution witnesses have testified that “uncontrollable” Congolese soldiers were the perpetrators of crimes during the conflict. They were partly identified by the language they spoke – Lingala – which is native to Congo.
As their commander-in-chief, Mr. Bemba is being charged with criminal responsibility with murder, rape, and pillaging for allegedly being aware of his troops’ crimes but failing to rein them in. He has denied two counts of war crimes and three crimes against humanity.
Meanwhile, this afternoon, under questioning by victims lawyer Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson, the witness absolved Mr. Bemba of any command and control responsibilities over the 28th battalion during the entirety of its five months intervention in the neighboring country.
“The commander of the 28th battalion did not receive any orders from Mr. Bemba whilst we were in the CAR,” said the witness, who continues giving evidence in the trial tomorrow morning.