22 August 2012

Central African Republic: Victims' Lawyer Questions Expert On Methodology

Today, two lawyers representing victims in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba questioned the methodology used by a military expert to compile a report that absolved the accused from command responsibility over his troops accused of committing atrocities. They said the expert did not travel to the Central African Republic (CAR), the scene of the 2002-2003 armed conflict over which the Congolese opposition leader is on trial.

Marie-Edith Douzima-Lawson put it to the expert that his report had gaps related to the conduct of the conflict and some of the central characters who were involved. She noted that whereas the expert, retired French army brigadier-general Jacques Seara, travelled to the capitals of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Republic of Congo to interview witnesses, he did not travel to the CAR.

"In so far as you saw nothing, you never met with military authorities in the field, how you can describe in certainty the unfolding of the conflict and the timeline of the conflict?" she asked.

General Seara responded that his report was "a summary account of the events" based on documents provided to him by the defense team, as well as interviews with some of the senior military officers who were involved in the conflict. "I tried to take all various elements of information provided by the defense and tried create a chronology," he explained. However, he added: "It is probably incomplete. If I had been aware of certain information, I would have included it in the report."

Ms. Douzima-Lawson disputed the dates the expert said Mr. Bemba's Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) fighters joined in the conflict. She also questioned the command structures described by the expert, which showed that Central African authorities, rather than Mr. Bemba, commanded the Congolese contingent deployed in the conflict.

Furthermore, Ms. Douzima-Lawson disputed the dates General Seara gave regarding the appointment of some Central African military commanders. She also questioned the General's knowledge of the geography of the CAR, particularly the towns mentioned in his report where atrocities were committed.

In his report and in-court testimony, General Seara says Mr. Bemba had no means to command his troops who were involved in the conflict, and that he did not have regular or direct communication with them. He says Central African military authorities issued orders to all loyalist forces that fought on the side of president Ange-Félix Patassé, and these included the MLC contingent.

The military expert is the first witness called in the defense of Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Congo who is on trial at the International Criminal Court over war crimes and crimes against humanity arising from atrocities his fighters allegedly committed when they were deployed in the conflict in the CAR.

Another legal representative of victims, Assingambi Zarambaud, also questioned the expert. He challenged him to explain how he reached the conclusion that the accused was not in position to command his troops.

The expert replied that to be able to command, one must be informed in real time. "At the general staff there is usually a huge map which follows in real time the movement and progression of troops on the ground. If you don't have such a map, if you don't have a picture of what is happening on the ground, how can you command?" replied General Seara.

He said the situation map for all loyalist forces was at the Center for Command Operations (CCOP) in the Central African capital Bangui, run by Mr. Patassé's commanders. He added that this map was updated on a daily basis.

The trial resumes tomorrow morning with further questioning of the expert by Mr. Zarambaud.

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