Today, a witness said Jean-Pierre Bemba formed a commission to probe the conduct of his fighters immediately after receiving a report from a human rights organization alleging that members of his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) were committing crimes.
Testifying for the third day, Witness D0-21’ said members of the commission of inquiry traveled to the war zone in the Central African Republic (CAR), but their investigation absolved the troops of any major crimes.
“The delegation in Sibut did not tell us of any case of murder,” stated the witness, who served in a senior position with the MLC. He said the delegation did not find any rape cases either.
Mr. Bemba stands accused of failing to stop or punish his soldiers, who allegedly carried out mass rapes, killings, and looting in the CAR during 2002 and 2003. Although he was not personally in the conflict country, as commander-in-chief of the group, he is being tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for failing to rein in his troops. He denies the charges.
The witness, who is testifying via video link because he was unable to travel to the seat of the court, said the delegation to Sibut town was accompanied by journalists. The team spent one day in the Central African town and interviewed numerous people in order to ascertain the truth.
He testified that in an addition to ordering the inquiry, Mr. Bemba wrote to representatives of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), the human rights organization that compiled the report, about the rights violations in order to seek more information about the alleged crimes. The witness did not say what response, if any, Mr. Bemba received.
The witness stated that “[t]he mission’s report back to Bemba was as follows: the MLC contingent in Sibut was enjoying good relations with the civilian population. Secondly, there were abuses committed in Sibut, and the population attributed them to François Bozizé’s rebels.”
The team also reported “some instances of misconduct on the part of the MLC soldiers, but the commanders of the unit clamped down on this.” Finally, the delegation reported that some of the inhabitants of Sibut were concerned by the forthcoming departure of the MLC contingent, as they feared rebels would resume brutalizing civilians.
‘Witness D04-21’ said the delegation made a verbal report and no written record of it exists. “It has video footage to support it,” he added. The video footage of the inquiry was screened in court yesterday. It showed the mayor of Sibut, a leader of the local church and unnamed residents recounting violent acts suffered at the hands of the Bozizé rebels, who were typing to overthrow a government that Mr. Bemba’s troops supported. The interviewees expressed their gratitude to the Congolese troops for “liberating” them.
According to the witness, the delegation reported that four MLC soldiers had been implicated in the theft of cloth and bicycles.
Asked by prosecution lawyer Jean-Jacques Badibanga why Sibut was the only location the delegation visited, ‘Witness D04-21’ said he did not know what informed the choice in location.
Mr. Badibanga also asked why journalists were invited to be part of the mission. The witness replied, “I believe that the main motivation for the presence of both local and international press was to gather correct information without in any way tainting it.”
Also today, ‘Witness D04-21’ stated that the military rank given to Mr. Bemba was honorary given his status as the political leader of the MLC.
“The rank of Major General given to Mr. Bemba was honorific rather than a rank given to him according to his military knowledge or experience,” he said.
The witness testified earlier that the accused had “elementary” military knowledge and as such could not undertake major decisions related to military operations on his own.
The prosecution will continue its cross-examination of ‘Witness D04-21’ tomorrow morning.