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Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Germany: Sexual Violence Trial Begins

(May 17, 2011) On May 4, 2011, the trial of two men from Rwanda accused of ordering others to carry out massacres and multiple rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) got underway in Stuttgart, Germany. The men are being tried on 39 counts of war crimes and 26 of crimes against humanity for actions that took place in the eastern part of the DRC, near Rwanda, in 2008 and 2009. (UN Envoy Welcomes Start of Trial of Two Men Accused of Mass Rapes in DR Congo, UN NEWS CENTRE (May 4, 2011); A Test for Universal Jurisdiction: War Crimes in Africa on Trial in Germany, SPIEGEL ONLINE INTERNATIONAL (May 5, 2011).)

The defendants, Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, are accused of being leaders of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (known as the FDLR, based on the group's name in French), a militia group frequently denounced for committing atrocities in the DRC. They can be prosecuted in Germany under a law allowing prosecution of foreigners for crimes against humanity and war crimes, regardless of where those crimes took place. The U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margo Wallström, praised Germany for “having apprehended these alleged perpetrators and for bringing them to justice.” She went on to call the trial “a clear sign that there is no safe haven for suspected criminals and that impunity for conflict-related sexual violence is not an option.” (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)

The trial is seen as a test of the validity of the German law; defense attorneys have already questioned whether the court has jurisdiction. The court has defended its right to hold the trial, stating of the men that “[t]hey stand accused of controlling the strategy and tactics of the FDLR from Germany.” (SPIEGEL ONLINE INTERNATIONAL, supra.)

Wallström had visited the DRC in October 2010, reporting to the U.N. Security Council on allegations of rape in North Kivu, a DRC province on the border with Rwanda. She also called on the government of the DRC to investigate the situation, noting suspected crimes by both government and rebel troops. (DR Congo Troops in Rape and Murder Claim, BBC NEWS (Oct. 14, 2010).) Shortly after her report was issued, the International Criminal Court announced it was charging a former official of the DRC with war crimes, based on accusations of murder, rape, and pillaging. (See Constance A. Johnson, Congo, The Democratic Republic of the/ International Criminal Court: War Crimes Case Confirmed, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Oct. 26, 2010).)