German trial of Rwandan rebel leaders drags on | Africa | DW | 07.05.2012
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German trial of Rwandan rebel leaders drags on

A year ago, a German court charged two Rwandan Hutu leaders of masterminding atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After more than 70 court days, an end to the trial is still not in sight.

The two leaders of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (known by its French acronym, the FDLR) are accused of having ordered the mass murder and rape of civilians in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between January 2008 and July 2009.

The court says FDLR leader Ignance Murwanashyaka and his deputy Straton Musoni organized the crimes from Germany where they both have been living for a number of years.

Both men are on trial in Stuttgart where they face 26 counts of crimes against humanity and 39 counts of war crimes committed on Congolese territory.

Who was in charge?

The Stuttgart court is now seeking to establish the chain of command within the FDLR.

Ignace Murwanashyaka

Ignace Murwanashyaka is accused of being the mastermind behind the crimes in DRC

Murwanashyaka and Musoni were not in the DRC when the crimes were committed. According to the trial witness and former FDLR fighter M., however, Murwanashyaka sent messages from Germany as the "paramount leader" to the military commander General Sylvestre Mudacumura and to his fighters.

The judges still need to determine if these were motivational messages or orders for systematic violent felonies and have called M. back to the stand.

That's the only way to clarify Murwanashyaka and Musoni's responsibilities, said Tina Jongkind, who is observing the trial for Amnesty International.

"The prosecution needs to provide evidence that Ignance Murwanashyaka really influenced the first FDLR general in the Democratic Republic of Congo," Jongkind said.

"Because you could also argue that (the general) was acting on his own authority and that Mr. Murwanashyaka didn't know anything about it."

However, Murwanashyaka could be called to account if he knew about the FDLR's plans and didn't do anything to try and stop them, she added.

Unique legislation

The trial is the first to use Germany's Code of Crimes Against International Law - legislation that allows Germany to prosecute people for war crimes and human rights violations committed outside the country.

The defense, however, argues that the case falls outside of the court’s jurisdiction.

Straton Musoni in court

Straton Musoni has lived in Germany since 1994

According to defense lawyer Andrea Gross-Bölting, it's a task that can only be taken on by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

"We don't have the ability to completely assess if a witness is credible," she said, adding that no one knows what the situation in DRC really was like and how the war really played out.

"There are so many question marks. That's why in my opinion such a trial cannot be held at a German court," she said.

Gross-Bölting also questioned soldier M.'s ability to distinguish between events he experienced himself and what he had been told by others.

"I would have even killed my own wife"

Fighter M has repeatedly said that the wrongdoers acted on their own authority and denied that there was a strategy of using "mass rape as a means of warfare" or a master plan to cause a "humanitarian catastrophe".

He said he did not receive any orders to commit such deeds.

Speaking at the trial, M. also said he would not have stopped at killing his own Congolese wife, which for Amnesty International observer Jongkind, is a revealing statement

"This leads to the conclusion that (M.) recognized Murwanashyaka as paramount leader and that he would have executed his orders," Jongkind said.

A former FDLR fighter who fled

According to witnesses, fighters are leaving the FDLR

The arrest of Murwanashyaka and Musoni was a hard blow on the FDLR fighters in DCR, said Jongkind.

"Many witnesses have testified that there are significantly more returnees to Rwanda since these two leaders were arrested. This means that fighters have left the FDLR and that motivation has been weakened."

But according to reports by human rights organizations, the FDLR, which is linked to the 1994 Rwandan genocide killing 800,000 Rwandans, is still very active.

That's one reason why ten witnesses - most of them rape victims - are going to testify anonymously via video transmission.

Their testimonies, and those of United Nations experts, are being eagerly awaited because they could bring important insights to accusations of systematic sexual violent felonies as well as to the FDLR's chain of command.

Author: Anne Le Touze /sst
Editor: Kate Hairsine

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