War crimes trials of Rwandan FDLR militia leaders could set precedent

The trials of two former leaders of the FDLR militia group that has terrorized eastern Congo for more than 15 years may set a precedent for prosecuting diaspora leaders of armed groups.

By , Guest blogger

I'm back finally after almost two weeks of absence from Congo Siasa.

While I've been missing, there have been several news stories on Rwanda. First, the trial of FDLR rebel leaders Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni kicked off in Germany last week. They have been accused with 26 counts of crimes against humanity and 39 counts of war crimes under new legislation that gives German courts universal jurisdiction. German prosecutors have visited the Kivus region to conduct investigations into the crimes and have spoken to FDLR victims. From what I know of the proceedings, it should be possible for the prosecutors to find at least Ignace guilty of some form of command responsibility – he was in frequent contact with FDLR commanders in the field, including during periods when FDLR troops carried out widespread abuse, and did nothing to bring those responsible to justice. There are some indications and documentation, as well, that Ignace gave concrete military orders that lead to reprisal attacks and abuses, although this might be harder to prove. Straton is a bit of a cypher – other than proving that he was the vice-president of the organization since 2005, it might be difficult to prove that he was very much involved in its day-to-day management.

In general, I think the trial could set a good precedent in terms of prosecutions under universal jurisdiction, in particular for diaspora leaders of armed groups. I doubt, however, that it will have much of an impact on the FDLR's operations other than denting their morale even further. The leaders were arrested a year and a half ago and their function have since been taken over by other FDLR members in the field.

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In other news about Rwanda, a new book called Remaking Rwanda was published by Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf. In response, the Rwandan government has set up a webpage to criticize the book and several editorials have appeared in the press. The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article here on the book and the Rwandan response.

One cannot help but both admire and cringe at the Rwandan government's steely efficiency at times. Two articles this week elicited this mixed reaction from me: One, in Le Monde, recounts how President Kagame slapped the ambassador to South Africa in public at a government retreat, reprimanding him for poor performance. Another, by IPS, looks at the government's reforms in the housing sector, suggesting that the president's directives to replace grass huts with sturdy structures has lead to an excess of zeal on the part of local administrators who have torn down hundreds of houses - especially belonging to pygmies - without providing adequate substitutes.

Summarizing, Reuters put up a Factbox of key political risks to watch – but also some sunny economic indicators – here.

Jason Stearns blogs about the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region at Congo Siasa.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Africa bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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