Ignace Murwanashyaka was born in 1963 in Butare, Rwanda. Since 1989, he has been living in exile in Germany. In 2000, Germany granted him political asylum.
In 2001, Murwanashyaka became the head of the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (known by their French acronym FDLR), formerly the « Armée de libération du Rwanda ». The FDLR are considered to be the main cause of insecurity in the African Great Lakes Region.
Murwanashyaka is accused of coordinating human rights vilations committed by the FDLR between January 2008 and July 2009. In particular, Murwanshyaka is allegedly responsible of attacks in Kipopo, Mianga, Busurungi, Kubua and Manje. The FDLR reportedly killed several hundred civilians, pillaged and burned down numerous villages and left many women raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence. Numerous child soldiers were allegedly recruited by force in order to carry out such operations.
In 2005, the United Nations Security Council issued sanctions against the Rwandan Hutu rebels and Congolese militia. For Murwanashyaka these sanctions included travel bans and the freezing of his foreign assets.
Murwanashyaka was arrested in Germany in 2006 for immigration violations and released shortly after.
In 2008, Germany refused to extradite Murwanashyaka to Rwanda because of the lack of fair trial guarantees. The same year, Germany withdrew Murwanashyaka’s refugee status.
Together with his vice-president Straton Musoni, Murwanashyaka was arrested on 17 November 2009 in Germany, on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by the German Federal Court of Justice. The German federal prosecution had been actively investigating the two suspects for more than a year, who were then pursued by Interpol upon Rwanda’s request.
On 8 December 2010, the German Federal Prosecutor charged Murwanashyaka and Musoni with 26 counts of crimes against humanity and 39 counts of war crimes, allegedly committed by the FDLR on Congolese territory between January 2008 and November 2009.
Murwanashyaka and Musoni are accused, as president and vice-president of the FDLR, of ordering and co-coordinating the crimes committed by the FDLR from German territory and for not having prevented their commission. Murwanashyaka was also accused of leadership of a foreign terrorist organisation.
The trial before the Higher Regional Court in Stuttgart began on 4 May 2011 and ended on 28 September 2015 after 320 days of trial. During the proceedings, several charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the recruitment of child soldiers were dropped for lack of evidence.
The Higher Regional Court of Stuttgart issued its first instance verdict on 28 September 2015, convicting Murwanashyaka for aiding and abetting war crimes on 5 counts and for leading a foreign terrorist organisation, sentencing him to 13 years of prison. The judgment was appealed.
On 20 December 2018, the German federal Court overturned his conviction. The Court argued that the first instance judgment was contradictory in parts and sent the case to retrial.
On 16 April 2019, Ignace Murwanashyaka passed away while in detention pending retrial.
This case is the first to take place under the German Code on crimes violating international law (CCVDI), adopted in June 2002. The CCVDI provides a legal basis to prosecute suspected war criminals under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a state to prosecute foreigners even in the absence of any link with the State in question. Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni could also be tried by a German court because they are accused of having committed crimes from German territory, where they reside.
THE FIRST CONGO WAR
After almost 40 years under the dictatorship of Mobutu, a new period of conflicts broke out in 1996 in the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, formerly known as Belgian Congo, Congo-Leopoldville or Zaire), as a result of the spill-over of the civil war raging in the neighboring Rwanda. At the end of the armed conflict – involving Rwanda and Uganda – Mobutu had to abscond, and Laurent-Désiré Kabila become the new Congo’s President.
THE SECOND CONGO WAR
Already in 1998 Kabila’s alliance with Rwanda and Uganda had turned in a state of hostility. Rebel groups engaged an armed conflict against governmental forces. Due to the involvement of about 25 armed groups and eight States – Angola, Chad, Namibia and Zimbabwe supporting DRC’s government, versus Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi supporting the rebels – the war is also known as Great War of Africa.
On 18 January 2001 Laurent Kabila died for the consequences of an attempt to his life, leaving the country in his son Joseph’s hands. After various ceasefire agreements during the years, the war formally ended in 2002. The peace agreement leads to new elections, won by Joseph Kabila.
THE CONFLICTS IN NORTH KIVU, SOUTH KIVU AND IN ITURI
New armed conflicts continued however in border regions of DRC between governmental forces and rebel groups. Ethnical differences and the high amount of natural resources present in the Kivus and in Ituri are among the main causes of the hostilities. Despite the fragile peace agreements signed in 2007 (Ituri) and in 2009 (Kivus), thousands of people keep dying due to famine and devastations left by the conflicts.
In 2005 the International Court of Justice recognized Uganda’s responsibility for violation of DRC territorial integrity during the Second Congo war, and for the unlawful exploitation of a consistent amount of DRC’s natural resources.
In 2005 Joseph Kabila referred DRC’s situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), asking the Prosecutor to open investigations on crimes committed anywhere on DRC’s territory since the entry into force of the ICC Statute. To date the ICC has indicted five people for the situation in DRC. Among these, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was the first person ever to be convicted by the ICC.