German justice under spotlight as Rwandan rebel leaders are jailed | Africa | DW | 28.09.2015
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Africa

German justice under spotlight as Rwandan rebel leaders are jailed

A German court has sent two Rwandan FDLR rebel leaders to jail for masterminding massacres in the eastern DR Congo. Rwanda's minister of justice told DW 'justice has been done to the victims of the FDLR.'

A court in Stuttgart, Germany, has sentenced two Rwandan nationals to prison for planning attacks in the internal conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from the southwestern German city of Mannheim.

Ignace Murwanashyaka, head of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) received 13 years in prison on Monday (28.09.2015) while his deputy Straton Musoni was given eight years.

The pair, who have lived in Germany for more than 20 years, were accused of war crimes committed between January 2008 and their arrest in November 2009.

The court found that Murwanashyaka had guided attacks from Germany using satellite phones, SMS messages and emails.

FDLR blamed for atrocities in eastern DRC

The FDLR was formed in 1994 by ethnic Hutus, including perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, who fled to the DRC after President Paul Kagame took power in Rwanda.

Ignace Murwanashyaka, Anführer der Hutu-Rebellen und Mitverantwortlicher für den Völkermord in Ruanda

Ignace Murwanashyaka was sent to prison for 13 years by a German court

Rwandan Minister for Justice and Attorney General Busingye Johnston told DW on Monday his reaction to the Stuttgart verdict was "one of satisfaction because justice has been done to the victims of FDLR."

"It was a step in the fight against the genocide ideology which the FDLR continues to propagate," he added.

Rwanda periodically sends troops into the DRC to fight the FDLR. In May 2015 joint military action against the FDLR by the UN mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, and DRC government troops, FARDC, was delayed after two FARDC generals were accused of right abuses.

The FDLR, numbering between 1,500 and 2,000, have been blamed for a string of atrocities, rapes, looting and the forced recruitment of children in the resource-rich eastern DRC where they also traffic in timber and gold.

Laforge Fils Bazeye, spokesman for the FDLR, told DW's French for Africa service the verdict in Stuttgart was the outcome of "a political trial. They [Murwanashyaka and Musoni] were convicted in advance."

The two defendants at the Stuttgart trial denied all charges against them. The trial lasted for more than four years.

The public prosecutor charged them with crimes against humanity and had sought a life sentence for Murwanashyaka and 12 years for his co-defendant while the defense had pressed for their acquittal.

FDLR Kämpfer

The FDLR have been blamed for a string of atrocities in eastern DRC

The allegations had included more than 200 killings, large numbers of rapes, the use of civilians as human shields and the dispatching of child soldiers into combat.

The defense refuted prosecutors' allegations the FDLR was a "terrorist organization" saying its aim was to gain recognition in Rwanda as a political party and camapign for the prosecution of all crimes committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

African reaction on social media

DW's Kiswahili language service has been monitoring reaction to the verdict on social media.

"For my part it was a fair trial if there was sufficient investigation and no politics was involved. If they killed and exploited people, then let them remain in jail," one Facebook user wrote in Kiswahili.

Another user writing from the town of Kalemie in the DRC said "surely the punishment is fair, who will forget what they did?"

Most thought the trial was fair, though there were dissenting voices.

"The German court has not done justice," wrote one user from Tabora in Tanzania.

The rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Monday's verdict for the defendants of 13 and eight years respectively showed that "the world has become a smaller place for war criminals."

"The German court may be far away from eastern Congo, but its judges have finally delivered some justice to the thousands of Congolese who have suffered serious abuses by the FDLR," Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, HRW's international justice advocacy director said.

Wolfgang Kaleck from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin said "Germany had made a contribution to the global prosecution of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide" by conducting this trial.

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