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Ignace Murwanashyaka
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

FDLR trial continues

Jane Ayeko
September 14, 2015

The trial of former leaders of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) Ignance Murwanashyaka and his deputy Straton Musoni is continuing in the German city of Stuttgart.


They face 26 counts of crimes against humanity and 39 counts of war crimes committed by militias under their command between January 2008 and their arrest in November 2009. The hearing is slated to end this week but no timeframe has been put forward for a verdict.

Murwanashyaka is accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity as well as being a member of the foreign terrorist organization Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). He's also accused of having ordered the chief of the militia group to carry ethnic massacres in eastern Congo between 2008 and 2009.

The trial is unique in that it is the first to use Germany's Code of Crimes against International Law. Introduced in 2002, the legislation allows Germany to prosecute people for war crimes and human rights violations committed outside the country. Superiors are also responsible for the acts of their subordinates if they made no attempt to prevent them from committing crimes.

Murwanashyaka's lawyer Ricarda Lang argues that her client is not responsible for the crimes that he is accused of and wants him to be acquitted. In an interview with DW last month, Lang said her client had no way to prevent these crimes. As a politician, he had no influence on the military arm of the FDLR that committed the atrocities.

A warlord in Mannheim

Until 2009, when he was arrested, Ignace Murwanashyaka lived in the German city of Mannheim where he kept a low profile.

The prosecution needs to provide evidence that he influenced the first FDLR general in the DRC to carry out the killings. If prosecuted, Murwanashyaka will serve a five-fold life imprisonment. He is currently in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison in Stuttgart.

His deputy Straton Musoni is also said to have issued orders to the FDLR militia from Germany via satellite telephone, SMS and emails.

The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) dates back to the genocide in Rwanda. It is regarded as the successor organization of the Rwandan Hutu army that was responsible for the Rwandan genocide in 1994. After being defeated by President Paul Kagame's Rwandese Patrotic Front, many Hutu militants fled to DRC where they often launched attacks on local people.

In 2009, the Congolese Army, with the support of UN troops and the Rwandan army, fought against the the FDLR militias in the Kivu region. During this time, Hutu militiamen attacked several villages in eastern Congo, plundered property and raped women. They also set huts on fire killing many people.

Ignace Murwanashyaka
Ignace Murwanashyaka in courtImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Victims of the FDLR militia were heard via video telephone. Others were flown from Rwanda to Germany. The defense lawyers have repeatedly criticized the trial and alleged that the indictment is meant to support statements made by UN officials and human rights activists.

A special challenge was the laborious translation work. Their communication with the militia group in Congo was conducted in Kinyarwanda. Murwanashyaka even quarreled frequently with the court interpreters on the exact translation of the texts.

Violence continues

Sixteen people have been killed in fighting last week between the Congolese army and rebels in the east of the country according to military and civil society sources.

Rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) attacked an army post 100 kilometres north-west of the city of Goma, but were repelled, army spokesman Guillaume Ndjike Kaiko said.

Ten rebels, five soldiers and one civilian were reported to have been killed. Fighting and FDLR attacks against civilians have reportedly increased in the area since the army launched an offensive against the group in January. Six army soldiers were also killed in an ambush at the end of August.

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