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: 5229 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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Weekly Summary of proceedings 6 - 10 May 2013

In the week commencing 6 May 2013 one witness testified: witness D04-56 (Defence witness), a former officer of the rebel forces of François Bozizé in the CAR. The witness testified via video link from an undisclosed location, with protective measures – face and voice distortion.

6 May 2013
No Hearing

7 May 2013

The Defence commenced its examination of Witness D04-56 led by Mr. Peter Haynes. The witness provided insight on:
  • Bozizé’s soldiers at Sido[1]: The witness stated that near the end of 2001, 500 Bozizé soldiers assembled at the town of Sido in the CAR and set up a staff headquarters there. Of these 500 men, 150 were taken hostage in Kangoro[2] some were former FACA[3] soldiers, and others were recruits from towns through which the group had travelled.
  • Conduct of Bozizé rebels: The witness stated that Bozizé’s rebel fighters had no standard training, no real discipline, were unpaid, and did not receive sufficient food rations. According to the witness, this allegedly led to looting, pillaging, rape, and other acts of violence against the civilian population by the rebels in areas under their control, including PK-12[4], Damara, Sibut, and Fu.
  • Withdrawal from Bangui: The witness stated that the Bozizé fighters withdrew from Bangui on 29-30 October 2002 because of the arrival of the Banyamulenge[5] and because of complaints from the population about suffering at the hands of the rebels. During the withdrawal, according to the witness, Bozizé rebels committed abuses, including alleged looting of money and goods from civilians.
  • Carts used for looting: The witness stated that the rebels allegedly used carts to carry looted items, and that they recruited young Congolese shoe-shiners living in Bangui to push the carts.
  • Languages spoken by Bozizé’s rebel forces: The witness stated that his unit used Sango[6], French, and Lingala[7], but that Lingala was only used when allegedly committing extortions (looting and theft). According to the witness, the civilians were willing to comply more easily when the soldiers spoke Lingala. The witness stated that Bozizé allegedly engineered this scheme to cause prejudice to other forces.
  • Occupation of localities in the CAR: The witness stated that after the rebels left a location, the enemy (FACA and MLC[8] troops) would arrive at that location almost immediately to take it over.
  • The witness’ reason for testifying for the Bemba Defence: The witness stated that he agreed to testify in order to enable the judges to ascertain what truly happened in Bangui in 2002, and so that his country has the true version of the story, and in order for the situation to be known around the world.
8 May 2013
During cross-examination by the Prosecution led by Mr. Thomas Bifwoli, the witness provided insight on:
  • Distinguishing feature of Bozizé rebels: The witness stated that the Bozizé fighters wore green scarves.
  • Rebels who returned to PK-12: The witness alleged that after withdrawal on  29-30 October 2002, some unruly Bozizé rebels returned to PK-12 to continue looting for a few days, after which they rejoined their units.
  • Presence of Bemba in PK-12: The witness stated that he did not see Bemba in PK-12 and was not aware of his presence at any time during the Bozizé rebels’ operations in Bangui in 2002. The witness stated that he would have been informed if Bemba had entered the CAR during that time.
  • No crimes committed by MLC soldiers in the CAR: The witness stated that he did not witness any crimes or abuses committed by the Banyamulenge in the CAR during 2002 or 2003, nor was he informed of any. The witness stated that he heard talk about crimes, but has no evidence or information about any such crimes.
  • Civilians’ response to Lingala: According to the witness, the people of the CAR complied more readily with extortions when spoken to in Lingala. The witness stated that he saw people tremble when spoken to in Lingala. According to the witness, when the Bozizé fighters spoke Lingala, civilians would call them Banyamulenge, which allegedly enabled them to commit abuses and extort money.
  • Change of testimony about Lingala technique: The witness denied having testified the day before that the technique of using Lingala during extortions was the idea of Bozizé. The witness stated that Bozizé may have been aware of this idea, but did not order it himself. According to the witness, this idea originated when the shoe-shiners pushing the carts spoke Lingala with the Bozizé fighters, and then it caught on as a technique.
  • Ability of civilians to distinguish Bozizé fighters from other military groups: The witness stated that civilians were not able to identify soldiers as Bozizé fighters, FACA soldiers, Chadian soldiers, or others while crimes were being committed.
9 May 2013
No Hearing

10 May 2013
During cross-examination by the Prosecution led by Mr. Thomas Bifwoli, the witness provided insight on:

  • Civilian identification of soldiers in the CAR: The witness stated that it is easy for Central Africans to identify other Central Africans who had lived and worked in the CAR. However, the witness stated that all Central African soldiers (Bozizé’s and Patassé’s forces) wore the same uniforms and in the trauma of war, would not be easily distinguished from one another.
  • Civilian intelligence: The witness stated that only a few civilians had provided intelligence to the Bozizé fighters, whereas the civilian population as a whole was traumatized and in hiding, and therefore unable to distinguish between military groups.
  • Communication between Bozizé and his troops: The witness stated that Bozizé communicated with his troops using GSM telephones and over the radio, and could successfully issue orders from any location via these communication tools. The Prosecution asked the witness whether, if Bozizé could lead his troops from wherever he was, then Bemba could do the same. Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner objected that the question was too speculative to put to the witness. The Prosecution withdrew the question.
  • Occupation by Loyalist forces: The witness stated that whenever the Bozizé fighters left an area during their retreat to Sido at the end of March 2003, Loyalist forces would occupy that area. The witness did not know whether MLC soldiers were part of those Loyalist forces or not, but stated that he had heard of MLC presence in the CAR at the time.
  • Loyalist occupation of Damara and Sibut: The witness stated that the Loyalist troops had control of Damara from 1st or 2nd November 2002 until March 2003, and had control of Sibut beginning on 2nd or 3rd November 2002.
  • Times and locations of crimes committed by Bozizé rebels: The witness stated that the unruly Bozizé soldiers allegedly committed crimes in Damara and PK-12 while the Bozizé forces were in Damara and while they were leaving Damara. The witness alleged that soldiers could commit crimes during ceasefires or lulls in the fighting, or they could disguise themselves and commit crimes during the night.
  • Statements about MLC crimes: The Prosecution presented three different transcripts of radio news reports alleging that Bemba’s troops had committed crimes in the CAR but that Bozizé’s had not. The witness refused to comment on these, saying that he was only testifying on what he had observed.
Questioning by Judges:
  • Judge Aluoch asked the witness to clarify which soldiers he referred to as “unruly”: The witness responded that these were some of the members of the Bozizé rebel movement, who left the group at various times and allegedly committed crimes such as looting, rape, and other acts of violence.
  • Judge Steiner asked, regarding the testimony of a previous witness, whether it could be said that the inhabitants of Damara supported the Bozizé rebels: The witness stated that the civilians had no choice of whether to support one side or another, because they were exposed to war and the soldiers acted without the consent of the population.
During examination by the Legal Representative for Victims, Assingambi Zarambaud, the witness provided insight on:
  • The witness’s involvement in crimes: The witness stated that he had been involved in the alleged looting along with the other Bozizé fighters, but that he had not been involved in or witnessed any rapes. However, the witness stated that he had spoken with people who claimed to have been raped by Bozizé’s rebels.

[1] Sido is a town in the north of the Central African Republic.
[2] Kangoro is a town in the north of the Central African Republic.
[3] The FACA were the CAR armed forces.
[4] Point Kilomètre 12 is a suburb of Bangui, the capital of the CAR
[5] Bamyamulenge is a term used to describe ethnic Tutsi Rwandans on the High Plateau of South Kivu in Eastern DRC; they formed a major part of the MLC.
[6] Sango is a Central African language widely spoken in Bangui.
[7] Lingala is a Bantu language spoken primarily in the northern area of the DRC.
[8] The Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo is a political party in Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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.

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