Two Rwandan Hutu rebel leaders went on trial yesterday accused of masterminding from their homes in Germany atrocities in eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2008 and 2009.
Ignace Murwanashyaka, 47, head of the “terrorist” Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and his deputy Straton Musoni, 50, allegedly ordered mass killings and rapes in DRC.
Murwanashyaka and Musoni are facing 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.
The UN has hailed the trial as a breakthrough after repeated calls by the Security Council to bring FDLR commanders living abroad to justice and bar them from unleashing further violence in the strife-wracked eastern DRC.
A resident of Germany for two decades, Murwanashyaka studied in the western city of Bonn and was granted asylum, settling in Mannheim in the southwest. He is married to a German woman.
Musoni, his right-hand man since 2004, moved to Germany in 1986 to pursue his studies.
Prosecutors say Murwananshyaka ordered about 200 killings and “large numbers” of rapes by his militias, had them use civilians as “human shields” and sent child soldiers into battle in eastern DRC.
A UN report counted 240 telephone calls between Murwananshyaka, known as the “The Doctor” for his doctorate in economics, and his officers in 2008-2009.
A protege of former DRC president Laurent-Desire Kabila, Murwananshyaka also paid occasional visits to his troops in the country’s dense forests, according to the UN.
At the time of their arrest, the rebel group said that the two were “in no way involved in the atrocities committed against civilians in eastern DRC,” calling their detention “unfair and unjustified.”
The trial before a special court in the southwestern city of Stuttgart is set to run until at least July.