Informal weekly summary of ICC courtroom activities in the case of The Prosecutor vs. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo

Bemba Case

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo: born in 1962 in Bokada, Equateur Province; national of the DRC; alleged president and commander-in-chief of the Mouvement pour la libération du Congo (Movement for the Liberation of the Congo) (MLC).

Situation: Central African Republic
Case: 01/05-01/08 - The Prosecutor vs. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo
Hearing: Trial Proceedings
Chamber: Trial Chamber III- Judge Sylvia Steiner (Presiding Judge), Judge Joyce Aluoch and Judge Kuniko Ozaki
Parties: OTP - Ms. Bensouda, Ms. Kneuer and team
Defence:  Mr. Aimé Kilolo-Musamba, Mr. Peter Haynes and team
Credit: ICC-CPI
Participants: 4121 victims represented by
Legal Representatives for Victims: Ms. Marie Edith Douzima-Lawson and Mr. Assingambi Zarambaud
Alleged crimes: Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is allegedly responsible, as military commander, of:
  • Crimes against humanity: Murder and rape.
  • War crimes: Murder, rape and pillaging.
Start of Trial: 22 November 2010

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Summary of proceedings: 10-14 September 2012

This week three witnesses testified: Witness (D59) Octave Dioba, Witness (D60) Professor Eyamba George Bokamba and Witness (D65) Mr Prosper Ndouba.
September 10
The Legal Representatives for Victims (LRV) continued and concluded their examination of defence witness (D59) Octave Dioba, an expert in strategic studies and geo-politics.
  •  Mr Bemba’s presence in the CAR: The LRV alleged that Mr Bemba had been at Point Kilometre 12 (PK 12)[1] during the conflict. Witness Dioba stated that Mr Bemba was never at the ‘battlefront’ when he visited the CAR, and that he had a right to visit his troops but alleged that it had nothing to do with operational matters.
  •  Expert witness report: The LRV asked Witness Dioba why he had not examined the CAR constitution in the formulation of his report. Witness Dioba said the CAR constitution was irrelevant to his report. He had focused on the Lusaka Agreement[2]  in his report because in his view it gave President Patassé authority to request MLC troops to intervene in CAR for the security of the CAR. The witness said that the nature of the conflict gave President Patassé exceptional powers outside of the limits of the CAR constitution.
  • Judges questioned the argument proposed by Witness Dioba and asked the witness how he was able to make conclusions on the legality of the intervention by MLC troops in CAR without studying the CAR constitution.
  • Direct orders from CAR military officers to MLC: The LRV asked Witness Dioba if in formulating his report he had seen evidence that President Patassé had requested MLC troops. Witness Dioba revealed that an undisclosed oral source informed him that Presdient Patassé telephoned Mr Bemba to request MLC troops.

September 11
The Defence began its examination of expert witness (D60) Professor Eyamba George Bokamba - Professor of African Studies at the University of Illinois.

  • Qualifications of expert witness: Witness Bokamba is Professor of African Studies at the University of Illinois. He has a PhD in linguistics and over 40 years academic experience in the field of Linguistics. He specializes in African Languages and linguistics, particularly the family of African languages known as Bantu languages. He was born in the DRC and retains close ties to the DRC through family, friends, and colleagues. He lives and works full-time in the US.
  • Bantu Languages: Witness Bokamba explained that the Bantu language family is one of the four main language families in Africa. All Bantu languages share a common genesis and draw upon the same group of sounds to create language.
  • The origin and evolution of Lingala: Witness Bokamba said that Lingala is a Bantu language and is the language of communication for Congolese people. It originated between 1866-1880 near the intersection of the DRC and Mongala Rivers in the Equateur Region of the DRC.
  • The reasons for Lingala’s proliferation within the Congo: Witness Bokamba explained the how Lingala became the dominant language of Congolese people.
September 12
The Defence continued its examination of expert witness Professor Eyamba George Bokamba
  • Lingala use in the CAR: Witness Bokamba stated that there are approximately 9000-10000 Lingala speakers in the CAR. The geographical proximity of the DRC, Republic of Congo and CAR allowed for easy migration of people and language between these states. In the 1970s and 1980s groups of CAR soldiers were trained in the DRC, where Lingala was the official language of the armed forces and military police. According to Witness Bokamba Congolese music is very popular in CAR, and approximately 70% of the lyrics are sung in Lingala.
  • Specific characteristics of Lingala: Witness Bokamba stated that like all languages, Lingala has a unique morphology, phonology and syntax. Prompted by questions from the defence he explained the technical characteristics of Lingala he wrote about in his expert report to the court. He stated that Lingala has distinct dialects. He used the example of a Lingala speaker from Kinshasa, stating that they would be distinctive Kinshasa Lingala accent.
  •  Lingala as evidence of Ethnicity: Witness Bokamba stated that if a soldier spoke Lingala it did not necessarily mean they came from the DRC. He stated that language was not a sufficient criteria to identify a person’s nationality and that further criteria would be needed.
The OTP began its examination of expert witness (D60) Professor Eyamba George Bokamba
  • Credibility of the Expert Witness: The OTP asked Witness Bokamba about his knowledge of the main language of the CAR: Sango. Witness Bokamba said he has professional experience with Sango in his work but that he has not studied it to the extent that he did with Bantu languages.
September 13
The OTP continued its examination of expert witness (D60) Professor Eyamba George Bokamba

  • Lingala, the Equateur region, and the MLC: The OTP alleged that Lingala is spoken mainly in the DRC, specifically in the Equateur region. The OTP alleged that approximately 20,000 MLC troops came from the Equateur region and therefore they would naturally speak Lingala. Witness Bokamba said that if MLC troops were recruited from Equateur that Lingala would probably be the natural language of communication, but that some troops may speak Bangi. Witness Bokamba said that he did not know the language policy of the MLC and therefore he could state for a fact that they all spoke Lingala.
  • Number of Lingala speakers in CAR: The prosecution alleged that only 0.25% of the population of the CAR spoke Lingala. Witness Bokamba confirmed that this was correct and that the Lingala speaking population of the CAR was very small.
  • Witness Testimony identifying troops using Lingala: The OTP recited testimonies in which witnesses identified alleged perpetrators as being MLC members because they spoke Lingala. In the testimony the witnesses described the difference between Lingala and Sango, and identified Lingala words. Witness Bokamba stated that these witnesses appeared to have the appropriate knowledge and exposure to Lingala, through neighbours, friends, colleagues, or in music, to correctly identify spoken Lingala.
  • Identifying nationality: The OTP questioned the witness about whether a person could identify someone’s nationality using language as well as other criteria including clothing and appearance. Witness Bokamba stated that, as a criterion, language alone, was not sufficient to determine the nationality of a person. He said that further criteria such as uniforms and appearance would increase the likelihood of correctly determining a person’s nationality.

September 14
The LRV continued and concluded their examination of expert witness Professor Eyamba George Bokamba.

  • The Congolese accent: The LRV asked Witness Bokamba to describe a Congolese accent. Witness Bokemba said there was no such thing as a Congolese accent, just as there is no such thing as an English or American accent. There were distinct dialects of Lingala and that a forensic linguist was best placed to identify these.
The Defence concluded their examination of expert witness Professor Eyamba George Bokamba
  • Sango Speaking Troops: The Defence asked Witness Bokamba how he would analyse evidence of troops speaking Sango .Witness Bokamba said he would apply the same logic to the questions asked of him about Lingala: that speaking Sango was not sufficient criteria to determine the nationality of a person.
The Defence began their examination of Witness (D65) Mr Prosper Ndouba, former spokesperson to the late President of the CAR Ange-Félix Patassé.
  • Witness background: The Defence asked Witness Ndouba to describe his working relationship with President Patassé. Witness Ndouba explained that he was from the CAR, and worked as President Patassé’s Principal Public Relations Spokesperson. This was an appointed role, one he had held from 1996 to 2003.
  • Witness experience of the CAR conflict: Witness Ndouba recounted his kidnapping in the CAR in Bangui on October 25th 2002. He said his car was stopped by unknown troops in civilian attire, wearing turbans and carrying Kalashnikovs. He said they spoke broken French and Chadian. According to witness Ndouba he was held hostage for 38 days in various locations including PKs 9, 10,11,12, and 26, and for the longest period at the Border of Chad and the CAR. He said he was released on 1 December 2002 and transported from Chad to Bangui by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
  • Kidnappers: Witness Ndouba alleged that his kidnappers were part of a group of troops consisting of Mr Bozize’s CAR rebels, former official CAR soldiers, and unidentified rebels. He alleged that the troops were of various ethnicities including CAR, Zaghawan, and Chadian, and that they spoke Sango amongst themselves, as well as Chadian Arabic. He alleged that during the 5 days he spent at PK 12 he saw only Mr Bozize’s rebels in the area.
  • Alleged crimes by Bozizé’s rebels: Witness Ndouba said he was witness to killings, torture, destruction and theft. He alleged that Mr Bozizé’s troops had full control at PK 12 and used it as a base and checkpoint to control the surrounding areas. He alleged that Bozizé’s rebels killed PK 12 locals indiscriminately. He said that President Patassé had no choice but to request MLC troops for the security of the CAR.
  • Alleged crimes of President Bozizé: Witness Ndouba expressed relief at being able to testify at the ICC but alleged that CAR President Bozizé, was not being held accountable for his crimes during the 2002 – 2003 conflict in the CAR. He said that violence continues in the CAR today under the command of President Bozizé. He alleged that Mr Bozizé’s rebels had raped woman since November 2001 to 2003 and claimed he could personally name at least one victim.
The OTP began their examination of Witness (D65) Mr Prosper Ndouba
  • The relationship between President Patassé and Mr Bemba: The OTP asked Witness Ndouba if he knew Mr Bemba personally, and if Mr Bemba had visited President Patassé during the 2002-2003 CAR conflict. Witness Ndouba said he did not know Mr Bemba personally although he had met him briefly at President Patassé’s residence. He said Mr Bemba did not visit President Patassé during the 2002-2003 CAR conflict.

[1] PK12 is a suburb of Bangui in the Central African Republic where it is alleged MLC troops committed crimes under Mr Bemba’s command.
[2] The Lusaka Agreement is cease-fire agreement signed in 1999 between political faction in the Democratic republic of Congo. Many other central African nations also signed the Agreement, for instance Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, and Zimbabwe as well the Organization of African Unity and the UN,

This is an informal and unofficial summary of the trial hearings. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, the CICC is not responsible for any omissions or inaccuracies contained within the following summary, which is provided for informational purposes only. Please do not forward without prior consultation with CICC staff.

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