Are we really serious about getting rid of the FDLR?

There are some pretty simple steps we could do to get rid of the FDLR that do not involve the massive displacement of 900,000+ people.

Let’s talk about the FDLR Diaspora. Several prominent members of the FDLR, including its President Ignace Murwanashyaka, Vice-President Straton Musoni (both residing in Germany) and Executive Secretary Callixte Mbarushimana (residing in France). In addition, the FDLR’s website (www.fdlr.org) has been bouncing around from France to the UK and now the US as it comes under media scrutiny. The same goes for RUD-URUNANA, an FDLR splinter group that also may have been guilty of rampant abuses in the Lubero territory of North Kivu this year. Its president and executive secretary live in Massachusetts and New Jersey and their website (www.rud-urunana.org) is hosted in Canada.

So are these countries trying to prosecute these officials for leading an organization that is responsible for crimes against humanity, murder, rape and pillage? Sort of. First, all three guys mentioned above have been placed on the UN sanctions list by the Security Council, so Germany and France are supposed to freeze their assets and ban them from traveling. The German government has more or less done this for Murwanashyaka and Musoni through the Central Bank there (neither of them had much money), although it is possible that they are holding money are running businesses under other names; I am not sure what France has done to implement the sanctions against Mbarushimana. The ICTR has dropped the case against him, but there’s a case being brought against him in French courts for involvement in the genocide.

That’s small potatoes, however. Why don’t they just arrest them? Shut down the websites? The short answer is that the states have to abide by domestic due process Apparently there are few laws in these countries that make leadership in a foreign rebel group, even if that group is incredibly abusive, illegal. In Germany, the authorities tried to prosecute Murwanashyaka for war crimes in 2006 but had to abandon the case for lack of evidence (!!!). They are now trying to nail him for belonging to a terrorist organization (paragraph 129 of the Federal Criminal Code). They’ve had some problems, because all of their evidence of FDLR abuses comes from MONUC, which has refused to release the conditions of confidentiality they had placed on that information.

But is that really all that can be done? I think we are not being as innovative as we might be. Let me suggest some other paths:

  • The German prosecutors should develop their own case and evidence. It would be relatively easy to gather abundant evidence of FDLR abuses in a trip to the eastern Congo. Why wait on MONUC, which has taken over a year to get back to the Germans?
  • The Congolese should issue an arrest warrant for Murwanashyaka & Co. After all, it’s their population that is suffering. That could encourage the Germans and French to take their allegations seriously and provide added momentum.
  • Bring charges against the RUD leaders in the US (Felicien Kanyamibwa and Jean-Marie Vianney Higiro) under the Alien Torts Claims Act. I have seen good evidence that both (in particular the former) are in touch with RUD units in the field regularly. We now just need to beef up our evidence that RUD troops are guilty of torture or abuse in the field.

At the same time, we should remember the limitations of this approach. Neither the FDLR or RUD get most of their financing from abroad – they tax the population, mines and trade in the areas they control. The FDLR’s political leadership was formed in 2001 to proved political cover and legitimacy to an already exisiting armed force in the field. Getting rid of them would be a significant symbolic victory and would send a message to the troops in the field – but it wouldn’t spell the death knell for the FDLR by any measure.

We should place more emphasis on the FDLR “Diaspora” closer to their bases of operation. I have been especially shocked that FDLR liaison officers could be found in Bukavu, Goma, Kinshasa and Lubumbashi during most of the Kimia II operations. General Mudacumura (the FDLR overall commander) has a sister, Eugenie, in Lubumbashi with whom I have talked over the phone. An FDLR financial officer, Gerard Rucyira, has also been based out of Lubumbashi. Colonel Mugaragu (the Chief of Staff of the FDLR) has four children in school at the University of Lubumbashi. Many of them are protected by local Congolese officials, with whom they have business contacts.

There are also regional links: Allgedly, the FDLR have close historic ties to some members of the Tanzanian security services, and there are FDLR operatives active in recruitment and financing in Burundi.

The new UN Group of Experts report, due in several weeks’ time, will shed some much needed light on these networks. For an excellent review of the FDLR Diaspora, see Rakiya Omaar’s recent report: “The end in sight?