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Bemba Lacked Authority to Order Soldiers’ Arrest

Jean-Pierre Bemba did not have authority over the discipline of his soldiers once they were deployed outside of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to witness testimony heard today.

An individual going by the court-given pseudonym ‘Witness D04-39,’ who was a member of the group the accused led, told judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that it was the chief of staff of the Central African Republic (CAR) armed forces who had authority to order the arrest of soldiers who may have committed crimes.

“Did Bemba have any responsibility and authority regarding the discipline of MLC [Movement for the Liberation of Congo] troops in the CAR?” asked prosecuting lawyer Shkelzen Zeneli.

“The answer is no,” replied the witness. “Bemba was not commanding the units in the CAR, so he was not involved in the chain of command of those units.” As such, he added, Mr. Bemba did not have the authority to give orders to arrest a soldier on Central African soil.

The witness stated that the chain of command of the Congolese troops went from Mustafa Mukiza, who commanded operations of Mr. Bemba’s troops deployed in the neighboring country, to Andre Mazzi, that country’s chief of staff. It was General Mazzi who would have ordered arrests.

According to ‘Witness D04-39,’ Mr. Bemba only ordered the arrest of soldiers in the Congo. “His authority was not extraterritorial,” he said.

Asked if he had heard of crimes involving MLC soldiers, the witness responded that shortly after the troops withdrew from the conflict, “a few rumours were going about” regarding crimes allegedly committed by the troops. Radio France International (RFI) was among the sources of these reports.

The MLC was one of the armed groups active in the 2002–2003 Central African armed conflict. During this period, prosecutors charge that the Congolese troops brutalized civilians. As their commander-in-chief, Mr. Bemba is being charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for failing to rein them in. The former vice president of Congo has denied all five charges against him.

Today marked the completion of testimony for ‘Witness D04-39.’ No date has been set for when the next defense witness will begin testifying.