7 November 2012

Central African Republic: Witness 48 Cross-Examined in Closed Session

'Witness 48' today continued to testify in the war crimes trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, all of his cross-examination by prosecutors was conducted in closed session.

This witness started testifying yesterday and told the court that the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) had a military justice system. Furthermore, he said soldiers belonging to the group, who were accused of committing crimes during their deployment in the Central African Republic (CAR), were tried by a military court. He said all convicted soldiers were handed prison sentences which they served in full.

According to 'Witness 48,' the prosecutor in charge of those trials was appointed by Congo government authorities before Mr. Bemba's troops captured the Gbadolite territory where the trials took place. He said this prosecutor is well known in that country and remains a senior official of the Congo government's justice ministry.

'Witness 48' also said that after Mr. Bemba established military tribunals to try errant soldiers, he invited career judges and prosecutors, many of whom were appointed by the state before he captured Gbadolite, to handle the tribunals. Two MLC military officers assisted the career judicial officials.

Mr. Bemba, the MLC's commander-in-chief, is on trial at The Hague-based court over the alleged rape, murder, and plunder committed by his troops against Central African civilians during a 2002-2003 armed conflict in that country. Prosecutors charge that Mr. Bemba was aware of his troops' misconduct but did not stop or punish them. He denies the charges.

Mr Bemba has also dismissed claims by prosecutors that he staged sham trials of his soldiers and that those who were convicted were released before serving their full sentences. Court and prisons records produced by the defense yesterday seemed to indicate all convicted fighters served out their full terms.

'Witness 48' continues to give testimony tomorrow morning.

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