Africa

Rwanda: Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni tried

  • 4 May 2011
  • From the section Africa
Ignace Murwanashyaka, file pic from 2005
Image caption Mr Murwanashyaka, 47, has lived in Germany for 20 years, having studied in the western city of Bonn

The trial of two Rwandan Hutu leaders accused of masterminding atrocities in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has started in Stuttgart in Germany.

Ignace Murwanashyaka, head of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and his deputy Straton Musoni both live there.

They face 26 counts of crimes against humanity and 39 of war crimes.

The trial comes under a new law which allows the prosecution of foreigners for crimes committed outside Germany.

They are accused of ordering militias to commit mass murder and rape between January 2008 and the date of their arrest in Germany in November 2009.

A third suspect, Callixte Mbarushimana, who had been living in France, has been extradited to face trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

'Fight against impunity'

Mr Murwanashyaka's lawyer said proceedings against her client were unfair.

"This is a politically motivated trial, a purely political trial. Until today we have no access to the complete files, they are blocked by the United Nations and the federal public prosecutor decides which documents he considers relevant or not," Ricarda Lang said.

State prosecutors rejected claims of bias in the justice system, Reuters news agency reports.

"We have a long list of attacks on the civilian population, killings, people shot because they were not co-operating with the FDLR, women gang raped, rape as a means of armed fight, as means of civil war," senior public prosecutor Christian Ritscher said after the indictment was read out. "There were also pillages at the centre, where complete villages were burned down.

"Our understanding is that the two defendants had knowledge of everything, at least most of it."

The BBC's Nathalie Versieux in Stuttgart says the trial has now been adjourned until Monday and is expected to last until 27 June.

The UN has hailed the trial as a breakthrough after repeated calls by the UN Security Council to bring FDLR commanders living abroad to justice.

"This co-operative burden-sharing in prosecuting individuals for serious international crimes will greatly advance the fight against impunity," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in January.

"Legal action against FDLR leaders also reinforces efforts to demobilise and repatriate FDLR fighters, which would significantly contribute to stabilising the eastern DRC."

'Relaxed'

Mr Murwanashyaka, 47, has lived in Germany for 20 years, having studied in the western city of Bonn before being offered asylum and settling in Mannheim in the south-west. He is married to a German woman.

According to Associated Press new agency, he appeared relaxed and waved to photographers at the start of the hearing.

Mr Musoni, 49, has lived in Germany since 1994, and has been Mr Murwanashyaka's deputy since 2004.

The FDLR was established by men accused of taking part in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 who later set up in DR Congo.

It is now one of the most powerful rebel forces operating in eastern DR Congo, where it is believed to make millions of dollars a year by controlling mines rich in gold and other minerals and extorting money from local people.

An unusual group, the stated aim of the ethnic Hutu rebels is to overthrow the ethnic Tutsi-dominated government in the Rwandan capital Kigali, says the BBC's international development correspondent, Mark Doyle.

But in practice the rebels have only rarely infiltrated Rwanda since the Hutu army that organised the 1994 genocide of Tutsis was defeated and chased into DR Congo.

Image caption Callixte Mbarushimana is accused of ordering atrocities from exile in Paris

The Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front came to power in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, when many FDLR members fled across the border, sparking years of unrest in the region.

The FDLR's top leadership was based in Germany and France but maintained control in DR Congo through an organised hierarchy of military officers and men.

ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said earlier this year that the prosecution of FDLR leaders "will provide the opportunity to demobilise this armed group".

A 1998-2003 conflict in DR Congo is estimated to have caused the deaths of five million people.

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