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Rebel Arrests in Germany Fail to Halt Violence

Activists say there’s been hardly any let-up in FDLR actions in eastern DRC since detention of its leaders.
By Mélanie Gouby, Espérance Nzigire

The arrest of two key Rwandan rebels in Germany has done little to halt attacks by the group they led in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, according to human rights groups.

Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, leaders of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by the French acronym FDLR, were arrested by German police on November 17 in Karlsruhe, south-west Germany, for crimes committed by their armed group in the eastern DRC.

Despite continual assaults from the Congolese national army - in cooperation with MONUC, the United Nations operation in the country - the FDLR movement continues to enjoy strong financial support from its network abroad.

The international community had hoped that the arrests of the FDLR leaders would reduce the militia’s operational capacity in DRC, but the movement is understood to have new diaspora leadership.

Anneke van Woudenberg, DRC expert at Human Rights Watch, HRW, says that despite the arrests in Germany, there has been no noticeable decrease in FDLR attacks in eastern DRC.

"The movement has been weakened, but the communication between the members of the FDLR has continued, and we know that another person based in France has taken over," she said. "The movement is very resilient."

In a report published in November 2009, the UN said that previous attempts to bring down the FDLR had been frustrated by the movement's international network of support.

The FDLR, which the UN estimates to consist of around 4,000 to 6,000 fighters in DRC, is blamed for many atrocities in the east of the country.

Following the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Hutu militia men crossed the border and took refuge in DRC, where they were soon joined by local Hutus and formed the FDLR movement.

"They systematically pillage, murder and rape women and young girls," Alexandre Bamongo Kabutu, a tribal chief from Walikale, North Kivu, said. "Since the FDLR does not have land, the group consumes the harvests of local people. We cultivate the land, but it is they who eat from it. It is the same all over Walikale territory. Many people have moved to Goma because of this insecurity, but those who cannot flee have to submit to the FDLR."

Despite several military operations and the recent arrests, violence in the country has continued.

Lambert Mendé, DRC government spokesperson and minister of communication, said that this violence "will lead the government to contact all countries concerned [in order to encourage] coordinated action aimed at definitively eradicating the terrorist network that covers the DRC in blood”.

Some have suggested that France should take a tougher stand with rebels that are currently living within its borders.

In particular, Calixte Mbarushimana, the FDLR's secretary general, who features on the UN Security Council sanction list. He is believed to have taken on the role of FDLR leader, following the arrests of Murwanashyaka and Mussoni.

Despite calls for France to freeze Mbarushimana's assets and to bring charges against him, Paris has been noticeably silent about any steps that might be taken.

"Regarding the conduct of investigations in France - investigations that are done by independent judges - I am not authorised to speak about them, nor to mention arrests," Guillaume Didier, spokesperson for the French ministry of justice, said.

"I hope the French authorities seriously consider the need to look at [Mbarushimana's alleged] responsibility for the crimes committed in the DRC,” Van Woudenberg from HRW said.

Meanwhile, Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, has established a new special genocide and crimes against humanity division of the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, a Paris-based court, which Didier says “clearly shows the French government's will to equip French justice with a more efficient way to investigate such crimes and it is sincere proof that France is not a sanctuary for suspects".

On March 3, French police arrested Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of Rwanda's ex-president, who was assassinated in 1994. Habyarimana, who has been living in a Paris suburb for the past 12 years, is wanted by the Rwandan authorities in connection with the 1994 genocide, which left an estimated 800,000 dead. She has since been released on bail.

Habyarimana's arrest came less than a week after French president Nicolas Sarkozy visited Rwanda in order to improve the often acrimonious relationship between the two countries.

The gravity of the crimes alleged to have committed by the FDLR is such that the International Criminal Court, ICC, is investigating them as part of its wider probe into North and South Kivu, two provinces in the east of the country.

But the arrests of Murwanashyaka and Mussoni followed an independent investigation by German prosecutors and had nothing to do with the work of the ICC.

Pascal Turlan, the DRC expert at the ICC's office of the prosecutor, said that the arrests, ordered by German prosecutors, was a very positive development and proof that the system of complementarity between national and international jurisdictions was working.

Under the 1998 Rome Statute, the ICC should only get involved in cases where national authorities are unable or unwilling to act. The ICC has not issued an arrest warrant for either Murwanashyaka and Mussoni, but nonetheless the German authorities decided that there was enough suspicion to take action themselves.

Murwanashyaka and Mussoni remain in detention for the time being, awaiting a ruling from a preliminary court over whether the evidence against them is sufficient to open formal investigations in Germany.

Melanie Gouby is an IWPR reporter in The Hague. Esperance Nzigire is an IWPR-trained journalist based in Goma.

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