A German court will on Monday rule on a long-running case against two leaders of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia accused of masterminding massacres in eastern DR Congo from their homes in Germany.
The trial of FLDR leader Ignace Murwanashyaka and his deputy, Straton Musoni, began on May 4, 2011, before the Oberlandesgericht, or the Higher Regional Court, in the south-western German city of Stuttgart.
In 2009, the two were arrested on a warrant issued by German Federal Prosecutors who confirmed that the fugitives were leaders of a “terrorist group (FDLR) accused of crimes against humanity and different ‘systematic’ war crimes” against the civilian population in DR Congo.
At the beginning of the trial which was hailed as a breakthrough by the UN, the two who had lived in Germany for more than 20 years, were initially accused of 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 Germany in November 2009.
Over time, however, that was whittled down to charges related specifically to the killings, as the court decided not to further aggravate the vulnerability of traumatized rape victims or child soldiers by making them appear before court.
Crimes against humanity
German prosecutors in 2009 acknowledged that the duo led a para-military organisation that had “killed hundreds of Congolese, raped women and recruited child soldiers.”
In June 2002, Germany introduced a new International Penal Code to deal with the crime of genocide and other crimes against humanity and terrorism. It is this law that now enables German prosecutors to try a civilian for command responsibility over atrocities committed outside Germany.
Seeking a full acquittal, the duo’s defense team contested the alleged chain of command at the FDLR, arguing that the accused were simply political leaders with no say over the atrocities committed in DR Congo.
But prosecutors were pushing for life imprisonment for Murwanashyaka with no conditional release after 15 years as is practice under German law. Prosecutors had also sought 12 years for Musoni.
FDLR: The origins and metamorphosis
The FDLR was formed in May 2000 in Kinshasa, by masterminds and perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, who fled to neighboring DR Congo (formerly Zaire) after the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), stopped the Genocide.
Before then, in the past 21 years, the terrorist group went through various metamorphoses in an effort to cover up and distance itself from its genocide label and portray itself as a legitimate politico-military opposition fighting to topple the current Rwandan government.
After the defeat of the genocidal interim government in July 1994, government officials, soldiers, and Interahamwe militia fled to the then Zaire where they set up a parallel government.
Carrying with them many weapons and other movable government assets, the defeated government had led roughly two million Rwandans into exile, where they continued to cultivate and spread a genocide ideology in preparation for a comeback.
They first teamed up, in 1995, under what was called the Rally for Democracy and Return of Refugees in Rwanda (RDR, 1995–1996), the first Rwandan opposition group formed in former Zaire and Tanzania refugee camps.
When the Rwandan army dismantled the refugee camps in 1996, RDR collapsed and the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALIR, 1996–2001) was born.
Operating mostly in the eastern regions of the DR Congo, in May 1998, ALIR launched an insurgency war that most especially terrorized people in northern Rwanda, before its defeat in 2001.
In 2000, ALIR agreed to merge with another resistance movement based in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, to form what is, today, the FDLR. This was after the Kinshasa-based command (ALIR 2) and the Kivu-based group (ALIR 1) agreed to merge.
By 2001, the FDLR had totally displaced the ALIR organization in DR Congo.
Since then, the FDLR has had a history of attacking civilians, killing, raping, pillaging, forcefully recruiting children and taking civilians hostage in the DR Congo.
The militia has also mounted several terror attacks on Rwandan territory in the recent past.
Last year, the group was behind grenade attacks that killed at least 20 people and injured 460 others, across the country.