Today, two witnesses testifying for Jean-Pierre Bemba recounted crimes committed by rebels loyal to François Bozizé during the 2002-2003 armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR).
‘Witness D04-29’ told the Bemba trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the rebels raped his wife when they arrived in his neighborhood on October 26, 2002. He said following a tip-off from a neighbor that rebels were holding his wife, he went to her rescue.
“Two men came toward me and asked me what I was doing outside at that time and who I was,” recalled the witness. “I was scared and didn’t say anything. It is then that they started kicking, slapping, and beating me.”
The witness said one of the assailants recognized him and asked his colleague to stop the beating. Once the witness managed to lift himself off the ground, he heard his wife crying and noticed three other men a few meters away holding her.
“I told the individual who recognized me that the lady in the hands of his friends was my wife. Then my wife started to explain that the three individuals had raped her,” recalled the witness. He said one of the men slapped his wife and the others hurled insults at her, saying she was lying.
“In what language did the men talk to you?” asked defense lawyer Peter Haynes.
“In Sango,” the witness replied, referring to a widely spoken language native to the CAR.
‘Witness D04-29’ disclosed the names of the rebel fighters who raped his wife in closed session.
After the incident, his wife sought medical assistance at a hospital in the Damara suburb. However, the witness never reported the rape incident to authorities because his mother-in-law advised against it.
Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is on trial over the rape, murder, and pillaging allegedly carried out by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops. He denies that his troops who were deployed in the conflict to help the country’s then president Ange-Félix Patassé fight off the Bozizé-led insurgency, committed atrocities.
Both defense witnesses who testified today laid the blame for the atrocities on the Bozizé rebels. ‘Witness D04-36’ said the Bozizé rebels arrived in his neighborhood on October 31, 2002 as they retreated following a failed coup d’état. When the rebels arrived, the local population fled their homes and rebels started looting property, which they loaded on trucks.
The witness said the rebels carted away TV sets, recorders, and suitcases. “From my house they took boxes of canned foods, bags of sugar, and generator [sets],” he added.
The questioning of ‘Witness D04-36’ by prosecutors and victims’ lawyers was conducted in closed session. Both witnesses testified by way of video link, and the bulk of their testimony was heard in closed session.
Tomorrow morning, ‘Witness D04-29’ continues to give evidence.