FDLR trial in Germany reveals difficulties in addressing sexualized violence
Systematic sexualized violence is widespread in the civil war that has been ongoing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) since 1996. There are frequent reports of rape committed as part of military revenge attacks on villagers as well as the kidnapping of civilians, especially women and children, some of whom are held as sex slaves for troops.
When Rwandans Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, leaders of the Hutu militia Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), went on trial at a court in Stuttgart for war crimes committed in DR Congo, the charges initially included sexual offences (amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity) along with homicide-related offences.
Murwanashyaka was accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes, in particular homicide and sexual assault/rape. It was alleged that although he did not commit these acts himself, he failed to prevent his subordinates from perpetrating these crimes (command responsibility).
ECCHR Report: "Universal Jurisdiction in Germany? The Congo War Crimes Trial: First Case under the Code of Crimes against International Law"
ECCHR monitored the trial and published several interim reports as well as a comprehensive final report on the proceedings.
The inclusion of sexual violence charges against the perpetrators is a positive sign given the marginalization of such crimes in international criminal proceedings to date. The Stuttgart trials showed, however, how difficult it can be to prove allegations of sexual violence. This is especially true in cases seeking criminal liability for superiors who did not personally carry out the criminal acts in question.
Decision in FDLR trial fails to do justice to the gravity of sexual violence
Although German criminal procedure does include some provisions aimed at securing victims’ rights during the trial process, the actual implementation of these principles has proven difficult. All charges relating to sexual violence were dismissed over the course of the FDLR trial. As a result, the final judgment did not acknowledge the scale of the injustice attaching to these crimes. This is a disappointing outcome given the prevalence of sexual violence in the Congolese civil war.
ECCHR asks if a judgment might have been reached on at least some charges of sexual violence had prosecutors and the court adopted a more careful investigatory strategy and examination of evidence. Future investigations should take into account sexual and gender-based violence in all investigations and at all stages of the proceedings. This would provide the necessary context for individual acts of sexual violence and allow for a better understanding of the role this type of violence plays or played in the conflict.