“When they arrived, they got into the house, they grabbed the mother but because the young girl was still fresh, they preferred the daughter to the mother. They raped her in front of the mother.” Going by the pseudonym ‘Witness 38’, the first prosecution witness told the International Criminal Court last week that Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo’s Congolese militias committed rapes and killings in the Central African Republic.
By Thijs Bouwknegt
“Their behaviour was that of animals,” Witness 38 testified in The Hague with face and voice distortion. He gave the bulk of his evidence against the Congolese senator, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, in a closed session. During the open session he said that Bemba was treated as an honoured guest in Bangui, while his troops “had whips, pieces of wood, and at the end of them they had attached bits of rubber or leather, and they would use these instruments to hit the CAR civilians.” He also saw the soldiers committing murders.
Witness 38 said that CAR soldiers never carried out atrocities while Bemba’s troops were in the country, as then President Ange-Félix Patassé had given Bemba’s rebels “all the leeway to act,” and that they “were sort of the leaders” of the CAR’s army.
Bemba’s defence has argued that once his militias crossed from the DRC into the CAR, they were under the control of Patassé. The lawyers questionned why Patassé and his rival François Bozizé were not on trial instead of their client. Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, speaking prior to the start of Bemba’s trial last week, stated that initially he had thought Patassé and Bemba were equally responsible for the crimes, but that “the evidence shows that the troops were always under the authority, command, and control of Jean-Pierre Bemba and not under the authority of Patassé.”
Two other witnesses, a rape victim and an expert witness, have so far testified in court.