German Court Sentences Pair of Rwandan Masterminds Behind DR Congo Atrocities

A landmark four-year trial in Stuttgart ended with jail terms for two Rwandan rebel leaders who orchestrated crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s civil war.
September 28, 2015, 8:50pm
Rwandan rebel leader Ignace Murwanashyaka appears court in Stuttgart, Germany. Face pixelated per court order. (Photo by Bernd Weissbrod/EPA)

A court in Stuttgart, Germany, has sentenced two Rwandan rebel leaders to jail terms for masterminding civilian massacres in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), marking the end of a landmark four-year trial.

Ignace Murwanashyaka, the former head of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), faced charges of crimes against humanity for crimes committed between 2008 and 2009. In the end, he was found guilty of being an accessory to war crimes and of running a terrorist organization, and received a 13-year sentence.

His deputy Straton Musoni was sentenced to eight years in jail for being the ringleader of a terrorist organization. Musoni was allowed to go free because of the time he has already spent in custody.

The FDLR is a Hutu rebel group that is active to this day in eastern Congo. Some of the group's founding leaders were members of the militia responsible for the mass slaughter of Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

Related: DR Congo Officials Swear Mass Burial of More Than 400 Bodies Didn't Include Missing Protesters

The trial opened with an hourlong reading of the indictment against Murwanashyaka and Musoni, which included accusations of murder, rape, looting, arson, recruitment of child-soldiers, and kidnapping. During his closing arguments, public prosecutor Christian Ritscher said the two men were guilty of "the full range of atrocities that one can imagine in a civil war."

The trial focused mainly on raids carried out against Congolese villages in 2009, including Busurungi, where the FDLR massacred at least 96 civilians on May 10, 2009. A UN report released in 2009 accused Murwanashyaka of orchestrating the attacks, which were carried out as reprisals for a joint offensive by Rwanda and the DRC to hunt down FDLR fighters.

The court heard how the men had masterminded the atrocities from Germany using satellite phones, text messages, and email.

According to Human Rights Watch, 51-year-old Murwanashyaka moved to Germany in 1989, where he studied economics at the University of Köln. He was elected president of the FDLR in 2001, and traveled several times to the DRC over the years to meet with members of the Hutu rebellion. He was re-elected leader of the group in 2005, and remained in office until his arrest in 2009.

Related: Congo Accuses Rwandan Army of Crossing Border and Injuring Soldier

Musoni moved to Germany in 1986 and became deputy leader of the FDLR in 2004.

"I deny all the charges brought against me," he told the court in August 2013. "I don't recognize myself in these charges. I'm not like that."

Both men — who were granted refugee status upon entering Germany — were arrested on November 17, 2009, and have remained in custody since then.

Follow Lucie Aubourg on Twitter: @LucieAbrg

Additional reporting by Pierre Longeray: @PLongeray