A former soldier in the militia group led by Jean-Pierre Bemba today told International Criminal Court (ICC) judges that he refused to meet with prosecutors because he feared he would be prosecuted.
“I was scared that I may be subsequently prosecuted in relation to the things that happened,” said ‘Witness D04-13.’
Asked by prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson why he did not feel the same way testifying on behalf of Mr. Bemba, the witness replied, “When I was given security guarantees by the judges, it is then that I accepted to testify.”
‘Witness D04-13’ is the 34th defense witness in Mr. Bemba’s trial. He was part of the contingent of Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) fighters who intervened in the Central African Republic during 2002 and 2003. Mr. Bemba is charged with failure to discipline his troops who purportedly committed rapes, murder, and pillaging as they fought in support of then Central African president Ange-Félix Patassé, who was faced with a rebel uprising.
Prior to the opening of the defense case, Mr. Bemba’s lawyers said that unlike prosecutors, they intended to call witnesses who had “tangible knowledge” of the five-month period during which the accused’s soldiers were deployed in the conflict country. However, the defense has in the past stated that some of its witnesses had a fear of self-incrimination.
Most of the prosecution’s questioning of ‘Witness D04-13’ was done in closed session. He is testifying via video link from an undisclosed location with his image and voice distorted in order to conceal his identity.
Also today, prosecutors questioned the witness about inconsistencies between his testimony and documents tendered by the prosecution about the date on which the MLC arrived in the conflict country. In his testimony yesterday, the witness said the Congolese troops did not begin combat operations until October 29, 2002. He said a delegation of 100 soldiers went to the neighboring country on October 26 to meet with the country’s army commanders before returning to Congo the same day.
However, a Radio France International news article presented by Mr. Iverson reported that MLC troops arrived in the Central African capital of Bangui on October 25. The witness explained that he was testifying about his experience and “only the author of the article is able to testify about its contents.”
Tomorrow morning, ‘Witness D04-13’ will be questioned by lawyers representing victims in the trial.