FDLR trial in Germany, day 173: Musoni speaks

Dies ist, auf vielfachen Wunsch, die englische Übersetzung des Prozessberichts “Musoni spricht”, erschienen heute auf http://www.taz.de/!121408/
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Straton Musoni grins happily as he is led into the courtroom on the morning of 5 August, handcuffed as always. “Good morning!” he calls out towards the public benches in Room 6 of the Oberlandesgericht Stuttgart.
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Usually only three or four permanent observers attend the war crimes trial against the Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) which has been running here since 2011. Today there are 15 to witness a historic moment: for the first time ever one of the accused is due to testify in his own defence.
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Until now, FDLR president Ignace Murwanashyaka and 1st vice-president Straton Musoni have remained strictly silent, except when Murwanashyaka himself has questioned witnesses. Now Musoni has decided to speak and take questions.
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The Rwandan, born 1961 and resident in Germany since 1986, reads an exhaustive German language statement about his life, his political career, his organisation and his view of his indictment. Musoni and Murwanashyaka are accused as “military commanders” of not having prevented brutal war crimes committed by the FDLR against Congolese civilians in 2008 and 2009.
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“I reject all charges against me”, Musoni says. “I do not recognise myself in the indictment. That is not what I am.”
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The 51-year old describes his life: religious education, catholic seminary, work as a post office clerk in Rwanda, studies in Germany from 1986. In April 1994 he was due to return to Rwanda; the beginning of the genocide committed by Hutu militia and the then Rwandan army against Rwanda’s Tutsi prevented this. “At least I was able to give back my ticket without problems”, Musoni remembers.
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The Rwandan became a computer specialist in the German state of Baden-Württemberg and worked, among other places, in the state ministry of justice. Musoni now denies previous accusations heard before the court that he telephoned the FDLR in Congo from there, although it was he himself who had once claimed to have done this in a monitored phone call. “I wanted to brag and play the daredevil who even phones from a German ministry”, he says. “In fact I was ashamed of not doing enough.”
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That is just how Musoni presents himself today: conscientious, unselfish, committed to his job and to helping Rwandan Hutu refugees in Congo, amongst whom there were many of his relatives and friends. His grandmother died of cholera in the refugee camps of Congo, Musoni says. He says he will give the court a list with 900 names of people he knew who were killed as refugees in Congo.
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The massacres of Rwandan Hutu refugees in Congo 1996 convinced him that the refugees need an army to defend themselves, Musoni says. His concern was always only the welfare of the refugees and a political solution. War was not a solution, he says.
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In 1994 Musoni co-founded the Hutu exile organisation “Akagera-Rhein”, from 1995 onwards he was German representative of the RDR (Rally for the Return of Refugees and Democracy in Rwanda), the party founded in the Hutu refugee camps in Congo. And then he was co-founder of the FDLR.
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The FDLR came into being on 1 May 2000 at a conference in Lubumbashi in Congo “with support from the Congolese government”, Musoni says. At that time, the DRC was divided: the western half including the capital Kinshasa was ruled by the Kabila government, supported among others by fugitive perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide in the former Rwandan Hutu army which had fled into the Congo. Together they fought against rebels in Eastern Congo militarily supported by Rwanda’s new Tutsi-led government.
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A peace process for DRC such as envisaged since the Lusaka peace accord of 1999 would have meant that Congo’s government might send the Rwandan Hutu soldiers home – in return for Rwanda withdrawing from Eastern Congo.
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So the Hutu troops, whom Musoni calls “forces spéciales”, needed a political representation to speak for their interests in negotiations. The FDLR, Musoni emphasises, was created at the behest of exiled Rwandan military in Congo and they dominate it to this day. Which also serves to suggest that politicians have little influence within the organisation.
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He does not deal with the question whether the Hutu exile army might have blood on its hand because of the Rwandan genocide. At first he does not even speak of “genocide” but of “escalation” and a “precarious situation”.
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Later he explains the thinking behind the founding of FDLR like this: “It wasn’t about creating a smokescreen to hide the army’s participation in the genocide. It was about finding people who, by their experience and their travel and communication possibilities were able to lead political negotiations”.
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Musoni was apparently one of these people. He, Murwanashyaka and a Rwandan exile from Belgium were the only Rwandan exiles from Europe to attend the FDLR founding meeting in Congo, Musoni confirms during questioning. He travelled via Zambia.
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During questioning Musoni also says that in subsequent years he built up the FDLR diaspora structures in Europe before becoming 1st vice-president in 2004. In 2001 he again travelled to Congo via Brazzaville. He even confirms, on direct questioning, having organised a container full of supplies for the FDLR: computers, clothes, even two bicycles and a car. Unfortunately the container was stolen on arrival in Congo by a member of the government, he says.
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For someone who played such a central role at such an early stage Musoni presents himself as suprisingly ignorant and powerless subsequently. He had “no command responsibility, no decision making or consultation rights”. He says he has never heard of crimes such as those the FDLR is charged with and he would never have thought it possible.
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He did read of FDLR crimes, for example in TAZ newspaper, but “I can’t remember having met anybody who told me about FDLR crimes… the (indictment’s) conclusion that I should have known everything is not correct.”
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The FDLR’s military wing FOCA (Forces Combattantes Abacunguzi) was “sovereign”, Musoni explains with exhaustive reference to relevants parts of the FDLR statues. As a civilian he had no orders to give to the military. He deputised for the president – his co-accused Murwanashyaka – only in civilian matters: “political mobilisation, diplomacy, finances, administration”. The president’s deputy in military matters was the 2nd vice-president.
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In this way Musoni confirms the military function of president Murwanashyaka without actually saying so. With this kind of testimony – and, in fact, by speaking at all – Musoni is taking his distance from his co-accused president whom he however calls a “friend” and “interested and engaged”. The two hardly look at each other on this day; they are separated by just one official on the bench.
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Knowing nothing and having nothing to say did not, however, prevent Musoni from suggesting in January 2009, just before the armies of DRC and Rwanda were due to jointly fight the FDLR, that a coming meeting of the leadership body should “place the prohibition of all crimes against civilians on the agenda”, as he says.
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“My suggestion was not an expression of possible suspicion that human rights violations might occur”, he explains. “I just wanted to smother all criticism of FOCA before it started.” The suggestion was carried unanimously.
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Now most of the crimes of which the German charge sheet accuses the FDLR happened after this date. So what exactly could the political leaders in Germany have done to prevent them? This central question of the trial remains unanswered.
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Musoni defends the basic idea behind the FDLR, although he emphasises an earlier statement that he is no longer active in the organisation and that at the time of his arrest on 17 November 2009 his term in office was due to expire and he would not have renewed it anyway. He praises the “forces spéciales” who founded FDLR for “their organisational talent, their discipline, their principiles, their belief in God”.
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The charge that the FDLR wants to topple Rwanda’s government and instal a Hutu-dominated regime leads him to comment: “With similar justification one could say that the (German) Greens want to topple the CDU-FDP government in order to take the country back to the middle ages.” He compares himself as 1st FDLR vice-president with German vice-chancellor Philipp Rösler who has nothing to say either.
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“I cannot judge whether charges can be levelled against FDLR as a whole”, Musoni says towards the end of his statement. “If I have the opportunity I want to take it to express my condolences and sympathies to all victims of the war in Eastern Congo. I hope this comes to an end soon and the real perpetrators will soon be brought to justice. I distance myself from such crimes and condemn them. I have done so up to now and will continue to do so in the future.”
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After his statement, Musoni takes questions from the judges’ bench – he will not answer questions from the prosecution, as his defending lawyer Andrea Groß-Bölting says.
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Presiding judge Jürgen Hettich starts with the obvious question: Why didn’t you say all that at the start of trial? Because I didn’t understand what I was being accused of, Musoni answers. After a pause he adds: Because my lawyers suggested it.
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The questioning reveals interesting new insights into the FDLR’s inner life. The “sovereignity” of the military wing FOCA underlined by Musoni meant that the military dictated the course of the entire organisation in the last instance: 50% of all positions in decision-making bodies were occupied by the military; when they were unanimous, this set the line to be followed politically.
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Murwanashyaka and Musoni even owe their posts to the military, he also says. After an internal power struggle including a coup attempt, which Musoni places in the year 2004, Murwanashyaka only kept his post because of the deciding influence of the military leadership, and Musoni became 1st vice-president on his suggestion, replacing a predecessor who belonged to the opposing camp.
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If one believes all this exactly as Musoni describes it, one may draw the conclusion that the two civilian leaders were in no position to tell their military what to do. The question is whether this exonerates them – or the reverse. Musoni obviously speculates that he is exonerating himself.
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Judge Hettich now wants to know more precisely what Musoni actually did as 1st vice-president. He asks: “How did you check whether accusations levelled against the FDLR were true or not?”
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“In the internet”, Musoni answers to general surprise. “I googled.”
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“Through publicly available pages?” the judge asks. “Google is a public page”, Musoni answers as though he doesn’t understand the question. “Public pages like TAZ, Monuc, Human Rights Watch.” “But not within your organisation?” the judge asks. “Oh yes”, Musoni says and proceeds to describe conversations about how to write a press release.
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It will take some time before this accused and this court really see eye to eye. Questioning continues Friday 9 August, after which the court goes into summer recess.

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