Bemba case: Witness recalls rapes

2010-11-24 09:03

The Hague - The first witness at the war crimes trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba took the stand on Tuesday, describing how beret-clad soldiers raped a young girl in a Central African Republic village.

Speaking from behind a screen to protect his identity, the unnamed witness told the International Criminal Court that troops belonging to the former Democratic Republic of Congo vice president wreaked havoc on the village in 2002.

"A woman brought her eight- or nine-year-old daughter to me, covered in blood, raped," the witnesses said in tears.

"Because the little girl was still....fresh, they did not take the mother, they preferred the little girl, they raped her in front of her mother in the house," he said.

"I don't know what happened to that girl, they raped her, big men like me, they raped her," said the witness, whose voice and face were disguised in the court transmission.

The witness also said he saw two people being killed. One was an old man who tried to stop a Bemba soldier who was stealing a duck, and the other was a boy.

Crimes against humanity

"They told him (the boy) 'You are our enemy', they thought he was a rebel, they killed him from behind, the bullet went through his anus and came out of his head," he said.

The troops were wearing black or red berets and rubber boots, and when they first arrived in the village there was no trouble.

But at five in the morning the next day, villagers were awakened by gunfire, the witness said.

"They entered each house, they took everything they could lay their hands on, radios, mobile phones," he said.

The witness came "blow-to-blow" with one of Bemba's soldiers, saying "he was particularly cruel".

Bemba is charged at the world's top war crimes court with three counts of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity for the alleged atrocities of about 1 500 fighters of his private Congolese Liberation Movement between October 2002 and March 2003 in the CAR.

Hundreds of rapes

Bemba pleaded not guilty to all charges when proceedings opened on Monday, while the court's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he "knowingly permitted" his troops to commit hundreds of rapes, pillaging and killing.

The court has authorised 759 victims to participate in the trial, a figure that is likely to grow as it has a further 500 applications to examine. Prosecution evidence is expected to take several months.

Prosecutors say the trial before The Hague-based court is the first in the history of international justice of a military commander for indirect criminal responsibility for rapes committed by his fighters.

Bemba sent his troops into the CAR after the country's then president Ange-Felix Patasse asked for help in quelling a rebellion led by former armed forces chief Francois Bozize, now the CAR president.

Bemba fled DRC in 2007 after coming second to Joseph Kabila in a presidential election, and was arrested in Brussels in 2008.