Jean-Pierre Bemba did not have the ability to single-handedly command his private militia, the International Criminal Court (ICC) heard today. According to a new witness, who testified under a pseudonym, the former vice president of Congo had an “elementary” military background that made it impossible for him to individually make major decisions related to military operations.
“The planning of operations was not done by an individual. It was done by the general staff, an organ which has a leader – the chief of general staff. It was team work,” said ‘Witness D04-21.’ Testifying in relation to the group’s operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he stated that it was the chief of general staff who communicated orders to battalion commanders on the ground.
The witness was formerly a senior member of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), the group Mr. Bemba led, and whose fighters prosecutors say were ill-trained, undisciplined, and unaware of the militia’s code of conduct.
Mr. Bemba is on trial for failing to discipline his troops, who, prosecutors allege, brutalized civilians in the Central African Republic during 2002 and 2003. It is Mr. Bemba’s defense that once his troops left Congolese territory they fell under the command of Central African authorities.
‘Witness D04-21’ is the seventeenth witness to testy for Mr. Bemba in the war crimes trial at the court based in The Hague. He is testifying via video link from an undisclosed location.
The witness said MLC soldiers at all ranks were well trained. “We were fortunate enough to have within the organization high level officers most of them from renowned military academies” such as Sandhurst in the UK and West Point in the U.S., the witness explained.
He said the group’s code of conduct was their “most well known” document and it was communicated during training.
“There was awareness raising during training. A moral speech or lecture was given to them repeating the provisions of the code,” stated the witness. This was to ensure “good relations” between the MLC and civilians in the areas the group controlled.
Before a peace accord saw the integration of Mr. Bemba’s fighters into the national army, the MLC was a rebel force that controlled northern Congo.
Last week, judges allowed ‘Witness D04-21’ to testify via video link after he had twice “firmly” refused to travel to the seat of the court due to the sickness of an individual close to him. Judges also granted the witness protective measures including image and voice distortion during broadcasts of his evidence in order to conceal his identity.
Terming ‘Witness D04-21’ as an important witness, prosecutors opposed the proposal for him to testify remotely. They accused the defense of “routinely” seeking the presentation of the evidence of its important witnesses through video link. Out of the defense’s proposed 63 witnesses, this individual is the third to testify by way of video link. During the presentation of its case, the prosecution called 40 witnesses, with three testifying via video link.
‘Witness D04-21’ continues giving evidence tomorrow morning.