29 November 2012

Central African Republic: Thirteenth Witness Completes Testimony in Bemba Trial

At the conclusion of his testimony today, a former member of the court martial constituted by war crimes indictee Jean-Pierre Bemba defended the integrity of the trials they held for unruly soldiers.

'Witness D04-016' told the trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the court martial was presided over by a civilian career magistrate. The prosecutor and registrar were also career judicial officers in the employment of the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the witness, while military courts in most countries do not have civilian members, Mr. Bemba's group appointed civilian judicial officials to its court martial as there were not enough qualified military officers to sit on the military court.

'Witness D04-016,' a former military officer in Mr. Bemba's Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) who sat on the group's court martial, started testifying on Monday. In cross-examining him, the prosecution and victims' lawyers have questioned the competence and operating procedures of the court martial, suggesting that accused soldiers did not have a fair hearing or sufficient legal assistance. They also questioned the legal qualifications of some members of the court.

The witness has testified about the trial of seven MLC soldiers, who were accused of various offences committed in the Central African Republic, where they were deployed in October 2002 to help the country's president fight off insurgents. Under questioning by victims' lawyer Assingambi Zarambaud, the witness said today that judicial police officers were unable to travel to the conflict country to carry out investigations due to the fighting that was raging at the time.

During redirect examination, defense lawyer Peter Haynes asked the witness about the arrest of Lieutenant Willy Bomengo over pillaging charges, his transfer to a jail in the Congolese town of Gbadolite, and conviction by the court martial. The witness said this soldier was made aware of the charges against him in mid-November 2002 before his trial commenced on December 5, 2002. Prosecutors had suggested that accused soldiers did not get sufficient notice of charges against them and the dates on which their trials would be conducted.

Mr. Bemba denies that he took no action although he was aware that his troops were committing atrocities against Central African civilians. He has been on trial at the ICC since November 2010.

The trial is scheduled to continue tomorrow morning, with the testimony of a new defense witness.

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