(Brussels) – The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should urgently submit information sought by the court in the case against a Rwandan rebel leader whose forces are still committing atrocities in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. On May 31, 2012, the ICC judges unanimously found that the request for an arrest warrant against Sylvestre Mudacumura lacked clarity and specificity, but did not rule on the merits of the case.
“Sylvestre Mudacumura should not think for one moment that he is off the hook for his forces’ grave crimes against Congolese civilians,” said Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The ICC prosecutor should promptly provide the additional information the judges want for an arrest warrant.”
Mudacumura is the military commander of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda, or FDLR), a predominately Rwandan Hutu armed group that includes people who took part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The FDLR has been operating in eastern Congo, under various names, since 1994. Mudacumura has been in charge of FDLR military operations since 2003.
On May 15, the ICC prosecutor asked the pre-trial chamber II to issue an arrest warrant against Mudacumura on nine counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity for his role in murder, mutilation, inhumane acts, rape, torture, and pillaging committed in 2009 and 2010 by troops under his command in the Kivu provinces of eastern Congo.
The court’s decision not to consider the request was based on the presentation of the prosecution’s information in the filing, not on the actual quality of the evidence collected or on Mudacumura’s alleged responsibility for the crimes. ICC pre-trial judges said that the filing lacked the required clarity and specificity. For example, the judges said that the specific dates and locations of alleged criminal acts were sometimes missing, or that it was not always clear which crimes the prosecution alleges Mudacumura committed in relation to specific facts. The prosecutor is expected to submit the requested information to the court.
“The ruling on the warrant request should not be misinterpreted as a dismissal of the allegations against Mudacumura,” Mattioli-Zeltner said. “The ICC’s outreach and public information staff should make strenuous efforts to explain to the people of eastern Congo that the case is still being pursued.”
In 2009, FDLR forces conducted widespread and vicious attacks against civilians after the Congolese army began a military operation against the group with the backing of the Rwandan army and United Nations peacekeepers. Human Rights Watch documented numerous deliberate killings of civilians, including many women, children, and the elderly, by FDLR fighters, who killed their victims with machetes and hoes. FDLR fighters also pillaged and burned homes, sometimes with their victims locked inside. Rape and sexual violence were widespread.
Local human rights activists, the United Nations, and others have recently reported that FDLR forces began a new wave of violence in December 2011, attacking towns and villages in which people had been accused of supporting their enemies. In May, FDLR fighters attacked civilians in Kamananga and Lumenje, near Bunyakiri in South Kivu province, as well as in Chambucha, Walikale territory, and villages in the Ufumandu area of Masisi territory, North Kivu province. In these attacks, FDLR fighters with machetes and knives hacked to death dozens of civilians, including numerous children.
Two political leaders of the FDLR, Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, are on trial before a criminal court in Germany on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization and bearing command responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity by FDLR forces in eastern Congo in 2009. The executive secretary of the FDLR, Callixte Mbarushimana, was arrested in France in October 2010 on an ICC arrest warrant, but pre-trial judges declined to confirm the charges against him for lack of sufficient evidence. He was released from the court’s custody in December 2011.
“FDLR military commanders in Congo have not had to fear prosecution for their grave crimes, which has encouraged further attacks against civilians,” Mattioli-Zeltner said. “The ICC prosecutor has a key role to play in ending this impunity and in making sure that cases proceed efficiently.”