Straton Musoni was born in 1961. He was residing in Germany since 1986. He was a computer specialist in the German state of Baden-Württemberg and worked, among other places, in the state ministry of justice.
Musoni has been Ignace Murwanashyaka‘s second-in-command as the head of the “Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda” (FDLR in French) since 2005. Previously called the “Army for the Liberation of Rwanda” (ALiR), the FDLR were created in 2001 and bring together the Rwandan Hutu – a group of around 5000 people who live in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the region that borders Rwanda. The FDLR are considered to be the principal cause of insecurity in Africa’s Great Lakes region.
Musoni is accused of coordinating – with Murwanashyaka – violent acts that were committed by the FDLR between January 2008 and July 2009. In particular, Musoni and Murwanshyaka are allegedly responsible of the attacks in Kipopo, Mianga, Busurungi, Kubua and Manje. The FDLR reportedly killed hundreds of civilians, pillaged and burned down a number of villages, and left many women raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence. Numerous child soldiers have allegedly been 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 Musoni, these included travel bans and the freezing of his foreign assets from 2007 onwards.
Musoni was arrested in in 2006 in Germany for immigration violations and released shortly after.
On 17 November 2009, Musoni and Murwanashyaka were arrested 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, Germany’s federal prosecutor’s office charged Musoni and Murwanashyaka with 26 counts of crimes against humanity and 39 counts of war crimes, committed by the FDLR on Congolese territory between January 2008 and November 2009. In their roles as vice-president and president of the FDLR, Musoni and Murwanashyaka were accused of having ordered and coordinated the FDLR’s crimes from Germany and of not preventing these crimes. Musoni was also accused of belonging to a foreign terrorist organisation.
The trial before the Higher Regional Court in Stuttgart began on 4 May 2011 and ended after 320 trial days on 28 September 2015. 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 in Stuttgart issued its first instance verdict on 28 September 2015, convicting Musoni for leadership in a foreign terrorist organization, sentencing him to 8 years in prison. He was acquitted of war crimes and crimes against humanity for lack of sufficient evidence of his direct involvement in the commission of any of these crimes. He was subsequently released as he had already been in pre-trial detention for almost six years and therefore qualified for conditional release for good behaviour.
The German Federal Court of appeal rejected his appeal on 20 December 2018.
This trial is the first under the German Code of Crimes against International Law (the “VStGB” in German), which was adopted in June 2002. The VStGB provides a legal basis for alleged war criminals within a framework of universal competence, which allows a State to engage in legal proceedings on finding foreign criminals, even if they do not contact the accused’s home government. Murwanashyaka and Musoni could also be tried by a German court because they are accused of committing the crimes on German soil, where they are residing.
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.