Rwandan rebel leader dies in Germany awaiting retrial

Ignace Murwanashyaka allegedly led a Rwandan militia in eastern Congo from his home in Germany. His war crimes conviction in 2015 was groundbreaking for Germany, but the case was overturned.

A former Rwandan militia leader died in Germany on Tuesday while awaiting retrial for alleged war crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Ignace Murwanashyaka, 55, was president of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) during its operations in eastern DRC in 2008 and 2009.

In 2015, he was convicted by a Stuttgart court of leading a terrorist organization and four counts of being an accessory to war crimes during those operations. It found he masterminded massacres and other war crimes and sentenced him to 13 years in prison.

However, the ruling was overturned last year due to procedural errors and a retrial was still pending. He was kept in custody pending the new trial.

Africa | 28.09.2015

An eight-year sentence for his deputy, Straton Musoni, was not overturned.

Murwanashyaka's health deteriorated suddenly on April 11 and he died in hospital a few days later, the court in southwestern Germany said. 

Read more: Rwanda trial: A victory for international law?

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Waning influence, but still deadly

Gesine Ames of the German charity organization Central Africa Ecumenical Network spoke to DW about the FDLR's significance today: "The FDLR still exists, though it is much less prominent than it was. It is still a militia guilty of human rights abuses and the killing of civilians in the region, but it is not nearly as influential as it was 10 years ago. No doubt that has a lot to do with the fact that the arrest of FDLR leader Murwanashyaka and his deputy in Germany greatly weakened the group, which has a strict hierarchical structure."

Asked about what Murwanashyaka's death might mean to the group, she said, "I don't think that the death of the group's formal leader will have much affect on the FDLR's current commanders."

Major Ndjike Kaiko, a speaker for the Congolese army (FARDC), told DW: "The FDLR is an armed foreign militia, and it is our job to hunt them down. We have been successful in our quest to reduce the FDLR's threat potential."

Slaughter directed from Mannheim

During the initial trial, prosecutors argued that Murwanashyaka had directed the militia from his home in Mannheim, in southwest Germany, via phone, text message and email. His lawyers had argued he was only a political leader and did not control the military wing.

The case focused on five raids by FDLR rebels on Congolese settlements in the region of North Kivu.

The trial was groundbreaking in that it dealt with crimes commited overseas by a person living in Germany.

The FDLR operated in eastern DRC and its ranks were mostly filled by Hutu refugees who fled from Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, in which more than 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were killed.

js,aw/rt (AP, AFP, dpa, epd)

100 days of slaughter: Rwanda's genocide

A signal to extremists

On April 6, 1994, unidentified attackers shot down a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana as it was about to land at Kigali airport. President Habyarimana, his Burundian counterpart and eight other passengers died in the crash. The next day organized killings began. Massacres continued over the course of three months, and at least 800,000 Rwandans lost their lives.

100 days of slaughter: Rwanda's genocide

Targeted killings

After the assassination of the president, Hutu extremists attacked the Tutsi minority and Hutus who stood in their way. The murderers were well prepared and targeted human rights activists, journalists and politicians. One of the first victims on April 7 was Prime Minister Agathe Uwiringiymana.

100 days of slaughter: Rwanda's genocide

Foreign nationals rescued

While thousands of Rwandans were being killed every day, Belgian and French special forces evacuated about 3,500 foreigners. On April 13, Belgian paratroopers rescued seven German employees and their families from Deutsche Welle's relay transmitting station in Kigali. Only 80 of 120 local staff members survived the genocide.

100 days of slaughter: Rwanda's genocide

Appeals for help

As early as January 1994, UNAMIR commander Romeo Dallaire wanted to act on information he had received about an "anti-Tutsi extermination" plot. The warning he sent to the UN on January 11, later known as the "genocide fax", went unheard. And his desperate appeals after the genocide began were rejected by Kofi Annan, who was Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations at the time.

100 days of slaughter: Rwanda's genocide

Hate media

The Mille Collines radio station (RTLM) and Kangura, a weekly magazine, stoked ethnic hatred. In 1990 Kangura published the racist "Hutu Ten Commandments." Mille Collines radio, which was popular for its pop music and sports programs, fuelled the genocide by urging Hutu civilians to hunt down and kill Tutsis. Director Milo Rau devoted his film "Hate Radio" to these appalling broadcasts (photo).

100 days of slaughter: Rwanda's genocide

Refuge in a hotel

In Kigali, Paul Rusesabagina hid over 1,000 people in the Hotel Des Mille Collines. Rusesabagina had taken over the position of the hotel's Belgian manager, who left the country. With a great deal of alcohol and money, he managed to prevent Hutu militias from killing the refugees. In many other places where people sought refuge, they were not able to escape the slaughter.

100 days of slaughter: Rwanda's genocide

Massacres in churches

Churches were no longer sanctuaries. About 4,000 men, women and children were murdered with axes, knives and machetes in the church of Ntarama near Kigali. Today the church is one of the country's many genocide memorials. Rows of skulls, human bones as well as bullet marks in the walls are a reminder of what happened there.

100 days of slaughter: Rwanda's genocide

France's role

The French government maintained close ties to the Hutu regime. When the French army intervened in June, it enabled soldiers and militiamen responsible for the genocide to flee to Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and take their weapons with them. They still pose a threat to Rwanda today.

100 days of slaughter: Rwanda's genocide

Streams of refugees

During the genocide, millions of Rwandan Tutsis and Hutus fled to Tanzania, Zaire and Uganda. Two million of them went to Zaire alone. They included former members of the army and perpetrators of the genocide, who soon founded the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a militia that is still terrorizing the population in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo today.

100 days of slaughter: Rwanda's genocide

Capture of the capital

On July 4, 1994, rebels from the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) patrolled the area around the Church of the Holy Family in Kigali. By that time they had liberated most of the country and routed the perpetrators of the genocide. However, human rights activists also accused the rebels of committing crimes, for which no one has been held accountable to this day.

100 days of slaughter: Rwanda's genocide

End of the genocide

On July 18, 1994, the RPF's leader, Major General Paul Kagame, declared that the war against the government troops was over. The rebels were in control of the capital and other important towns. Initially, they installed a provisional government. Paul Kagame became Rwanda's president in the year 2000.

100 days of slaughter: Rwanda's genocide

Lasting scars

The genocide went on for almost three months. The victims were often slaughtered with machetes. Neighbors killed neighbors. Not even babies and elderly people were spared, and the streets were strewn with corpses and body parts. It's not only the physical scars on the bodies of the survivors that remind Rwandans of the genocide. There is also a deep trauma.

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