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Monday, September 28, 2015

Rwandans sentenced in Germany for crimes against humanity

In 2011, a sensational trial started in Stuttgart in Germany.  The new law allowed prosecution of foreigners for crimes committed outside Germany and it was the trial of  two Rwandan Hutu leaders accused of masterminding atrocities in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.  Those facing the trial were : Ignace Murwanashyaka, head of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and his deputy Straton Musoni both living in Germany.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo also known as DR Congo, is a country located in Central Africa. From 1971 to 1997 it was named Zaïre.  The Congolese Civil Wars, which began in 1996, brought about the end of Mobutu Sese Seko's 31-year reign and devastated the country. The wars ultimately involved nine African nations, multiple groups of UN peacekeepers and twenty armed groups, and resulted in the deaths of 5.4 million people. The Democratic Republic of Congo is extremely rich in natural resources, but political instability, a lack of infrastructure deep rooted corruption, centuries of both commercial and colonial extraction and exploitation have limited holistic development.

In neighbouring Rwanda occurred a genocide - mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority. The genocide was planned by members of the core political elite known as the akazu, many of whom occupied positions at top levels of the national government. The genocide took place in the context of the Rwandan Civil War, an ongoing conflict beginning in 1990.  After Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, returning refugees swept into the country’s biggest national park with herds of cattle and wiped out the last lions. Now the once-abandoned reserve on the border with Tanzania is drawing more tourists, reducing poaching and involving more villagers in conservation. It even re-introduced lions this year.

It is quite a turnaround for Akagera National Park, whose landscape of savannah, acacia woodlands and papyrus swamps was reduced by more than half to 433 square miles (1,122 square kilometers) following the 1990s upheaval.  It is not an easy recipe to emulate. In many parts of Africa, conservation has suffered because of state corruption, lax law enforcement, porous national borders and conflicts that make it easier for gunmen to poach wildlife. Today, visitors to Akagera see hippos, crocodiles and cormorants on sunset cruises on Lake Ihema, where British explorer Henry Stanley camped in the late 19th century.

Today, a German court sentenced two Rwandan rebel leaders to long jail terms for masterminding massacres in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo from their homes in Germany.   The two Rwandans, who have lived in Germany for more than 20 years, were accused of "the full range of atrocities that one can imagine in a civil war", said federal prosecutor Christian Ritscher. Ignace Murwanashyaka, head of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), received 13 years in prison, while his deputy Straton Musoni was given eight years, judge Jürgen Hettich told the court after a trial that lasted more than four years. Both men were convicted of holding leadership roles in a foreign terrorist organization, while Murwanashyaka was also sentenced for a charge of aiding and abetting war crimes.

Prosecutors said during their closing argument last week that the two men were guilty of "the full range of atrocities that one can imagine in a civil war" and demanded life imprisonment for Murwanashyaka. They had initially been accused of 26 counts of crimes against humanity and 39 counts of war crimes committed by militias under their command between January 2008 and November 2009, although those charges were gradually whittled down to avoid forcing traumatized witnesses to testify.

While Murwanashyaka will be jailed immediately, Musoni will serve no further time in jail, as he has served his time in custody during the investigation and trial. The trial was hailed by the United Nations and human rights groups as a breakthrough in pursuing war criminals when it opened four years ago, as it is more difficult to prove crimes against humanity than terrorism charges.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

28th Sept. 2o15.

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