Atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Germany Arrests Rwandan War Crimes Suspects

By Horand Knaup in Nairobi

The Hutu militia FDLR is responsible for much of the violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where murder, massacres, rape and kidnapping are widespread. The FDLR's leaders have lived untouched in Germany for years. Now the authorities have reacted -- far too late.

Ignace Murwanashyaka, seen here in a March 2005 photo, was arrested Tuesday in Germany. Zoom
REUTERS

Ignace Murwanashyaka, seen here in a March 2005 photo, was arrested Tuesday in Germany.

For a long time, Ignace Murwanashyaka's life in Germany was uneventful. The alleged war criminal lived largely unnoticed in Mannheim, despite suspicions that he had a hand in ordering from afar many of the atrocities committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On Tuesday, though, Murwanashyaka's life of tranquillity came to an abrupt end when investigators from Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office arrested the 46-year-old.

According to federal prosecutors, Murwanashyaka has been head of the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) since 2001. The FDLR is a paramilitary organization involved in the Congolese civil war and which operates near the border with Rwanda. Investigators maintain that Murwanashyaka is the commander of the FDLR's military wing.

In addition, officials took Murwanashyaka's deputy, Straton M., 48, into custody near Stuttgart. The detainee was living in the town of Nürtingen, located southeast of Stuttgart, and is said to have both advised his boss on military issues and to have issued orders on his behalf.

The two men stand accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes. German prosecutors say that militants from the FDLR killed several hundred civilians and raped countless women between January 2008 and July 2009. Villages were plundered and burned to the ground, residents driven away and children forcefully recruited into the militia. Murwanashyaka and his deputy M. are thought to be behind the violence.

Bloody History

The FDLR has a bloody history. The organization is a collection of various Hutu militias which fled to Congo following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The group changed its name numerous times until, in 2000, they settled on FDLR.

The Office of the Federal Prosecutor's rather dry legalese fails to accurately convey the state of war that has persisted in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a number of years -- a situation that is beyond the power of imagination. The FDLR is one of the key instigators of the horrors there. In the last few years alone, hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee, and there is hardly any other place on Earth where murder, massacres, rapes and kidnappings are as uncontrolled as they are in places such as the region surrounding Lake Kivu.

Since 1994, millions have died horrible deaths in Congo, mainly in the eastern part of the country -- and mainly at the hands of the FDLR. The UN mission to Congo, known as MONUC, has not been able to protect the region's population. Last March, it intercepted a FDLR radio transmission, in which one of the speakers openly said that the group's goal was "to attack the population in order to cause a humanitarian catastrophe."

Based in Mannheim

Ignace Murwanashyaka, who was not involved in the Rwandan genocide, was originally given the rather nondescript position of representative for international relations when the FDLR was founded in 2000. In late 2001, he rose to become its president.

Years earlier, in 1989, he had come to Germany on a grant. He studied business in Bonn and earned his doctorate there in 1998. He married a German and moved to Mannheim, where he moved into a rather modest multi-family dwelling, from which he issued his commands. Testimony from former FDLR rebels in Congo and Rwanda has long provided clear evidence that the group's two most important leaders controlled the rebels from Germany: Ignace Murwanashyaka in Mannheim and his deputy, Straton M., in Nürtingen.

Since 2001, Murwanashyaka has traveled between Mannheim and Congo in order to encourage his soldiers, to deliver his commands and to organize his forces. In 2000, Murwanashyaka had applied for asylum in Germany, claiming that he was a victim of political persecution. It was quickly granted.

He is said to have kept very tight control of the FDLR's military commander, Sylvestre Mudacumura, who -- while still serving in the Rwandan army -- trained at the German Armed Forces Staff and Command College in Hamburg in the early 1990s. As late as last year, Ignace Murwanashyaka was making no secret of his close ties in Congo, even though he was already under close observation by the German authorities. "I know exactly what happens there," he said in an interview with the German public broadcaster MDR. After that, he became more cautious as the investigation proceeded and the restrictions imposed on him increased.

The Long Road to Arrest

In 2008, the Rwandan government in Kigali sent an arrest warrant for Murwanashyaka on suspicion of war crimes to Germany, including an extradition request. The Higher Regional Court in Karlsruhe rejected the request, however. Then last March, the district court in Mannheim gave Murwanashyaka a suspended sentence because he had violated the conditions of his residence in Germany through his regular trips to Congo.

In May, Rwanda's prosecutor general came personally to Bonn to present the German federal prosecutor with his evidence of Murwanashyaka's alleged crimes. The German federal prosecutor's office had opened an investigation against Murwanashyaka in 2006 on suspicion of his involvement in crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the case had never been pursued with particular zeal. Even after the visit of the Rwandan prosecutor general, the German investigators still took half a year to issue the current arrest warrant. Meanwhile German and international human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch had been collecting incriminating evidence against the alleged genocide mastermind for years.

The pressure on the German authorities had recently increased. The United Nations expressed its surprise regarding the ease with which Murwanashyaka could control his militia groups in Congo from Mannheim. Now the Karlsruhe investigators have finally reacted. According to the German federal prosecutor's statement, investigators had spent one year "intensively" looking into the case of Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton M. until enough evidence was found to support issuing an arrest warrant. The two men are now in custody.

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