Groundbreaking trial in Germany

Rwandan FDLR rebel leaders sentenced

Democratic Republic Congo – Armed conflict – Sexual and gender-based violence

In 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 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).


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. In June 2016, the organization 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?


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.

documents (6)

glossary (7)


Command responsibility

In international criminal law, the principle of command responsibility allows for commanders to be held criminally liable for crimes committed by their subordinates. This will apply if the commander was in a position to prevent crimes committed by forces under their effective control and knew or should have known that the crime would be committed.

Topics (3)


Crimes against humanity

Crimes against humanity – defined as a systematic attack on a civilian population – tend to be planned or at least condoned by state authorities: heads of government, senior officials or military leaders. In some cases, companies also play a direct or indirect role in their perpetration.

The term “crimes against humanity” was first defined during the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials. Under this definition the Nazis' mass extermination of the Jewish population in Europe and other groups was a genocide but it also constituted a crime against humanity as a whole.

When crimes against humanity – which can include ethnic cleansing, enslavement or deportation of a population – are perpetrated today, those responsible for them can be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court or in certain national jurisdictions under the principle of universal jurisdiction. All too often, however, those responsible enjoy absolute impunity.

ECCHR works to end impunity for crimes against humanity. Together with affected persons, civil society organizations and an international network of partner organizations and lawyers, ECCHR undertakes legal interventions to bring those responsible to justice. 


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