Democratic Republic Congo - Armed Conflict - Sexualized Violence

Groundbreaking trial in Germany

Rwandan FDLR rebel leaders sentenced

Democratic Republic Congo - Armed Conflict - Sexualized Violence

Groundbreaking trial in Germany

Rwandan FDLR rebel leaders sentenced

On 28 September 2015, the Higher Regional Court in Stuttgart handed down convictions in the trial of two Rwandan leaders of the Hutu militia group FDLR. Ignace Murwanashyaka, president of the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and Straton Musoni, his vice president, were on trial for committing grave breaches of international law in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008/9. They were sentenced to 13 and eight years in prison respectively. The FDLR are alleged to have utilized sexualized violence against the Congolese civilian population as part of their battle strategy, and to have in numerous cases plundered, killed and inflicted grievous bodily injuries. In many cases women are said to have been brutally abused, injuries which in some cases were fatal. Murwanashyaka is not accused of committing these acts himself, but of failing to take action to prevent his subordinates from carrying out the acts in question (command responsibility).

Case

Murwanashyaka was accused of being responsible for crimes against humanity, particularly killing and sexual coercion or rape. He also faces accusations of war crimes, particularly the killing, cruel or inhumane treatment, sexual coercion or rape of a person protected under international humanitarian law, as well as forcibly recruiting child soldiers and perpetrating war crimes against property. ECCHR monitored the trial in Stuttgart from the very beginning and regularly published status reports. On 8 June 2016, the organisation published its final report. Based on the monitoring carried out over four and a half years, the report examines the following questions, among others: Can this trial serve as a model for other international criminal proceedings in Germany?  How can the prosecution and courts remedy shortcomings in addressing international crimes, especially concerning charges of sexualized violence? What significance does international criminal law have in the global fight against impunity?

Context

For several years now, the FDLR has been carrying out attacks on the Congolese civilian population in eastern Congo. The FDLR is mainly made up of Hutu refugees who fled to eastern Congo from Rwanda in 1994 and over the years that followed. From there, the FDLR have been fighting the Rwandan Government led by Paul Kagame. Attempts by the UN and the DRC to disarm the FDLR have continually been met with reprisals against the Congolese civilian population. Huge numbers of women have been subjected to rape and other crimes. In spring 2009, the FDLR once again intensified its attacks on the civilian population in eastern Congo.

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glossary

War crimes are serious breaches of international humanitarian law committed in armed conflict.
The Pinochet Effect refers to the example set by the arrest of and extradition proceedings against Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet.
Sexualized violence refers to aggressive acts with a gender/sexual element carried out without the consent of the victim.
A communication to the International Criminal Court provides prosecutors at the Court with information on alleged or potential crimes.
Crimes against humanity are grave violations of international law carried out against a civilian population in a systematic or widespread way.
International criminal law applies in cases of grave human rights violations (such as genocide and war crimes).
Command responsibility allows for commanders to be held liable for crimes (e.g. war crimes) committed by their subordinates.