One of the most notorious perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Congo, is the FDLR – the Rwandan militia whose leaders were involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and then fled across the border. For the past 15 years, the FDLR has tormented the people of Congo, notoriously resorting to violence against women and girls to terrify villagers into submission. A military offensive in Congo against the FDLR has driven the militia from some of the mines they previously controlled, but the cost of the resulting civilian devastation has vastly outweighed the benefits of the operation.
What is long overdue is an adjustment in the approach to create a broader and smarter counter-insurgency operation which seeks to protect civilians, demobilize ex-militia, and neutralize the FDLR leadership abroad.
Finally, some good news from Germany regarding that last objective. The political leaders of the FDLR, Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, were arrested on Tuesday for the crimes they helped orchestrate for years from Germany, where they had both sought asylum. This is a first step in the establishment of a degree of accountability for war crimes where none existed before. Even from his perch in Germany, it’s clear that Murwanashyaka was a fixture in the FDLR’s day-to-day operations on the ground Congo.
It’s reassuring to know that at least two of these FDLR predators will be forced to account for their crimes. Many more should follow, and countries like France and the United States should take note.
International leaders should commend Germany for this move and use the occasion to rethink the strategy in eastern Congo, starting off by suspending and reforming the military operation against the FDLR in eastern Congo and making civilian protection its first priority.
Photo: A camp for people displaced by fighting in eastern Congo. (Enough/Laura Heaton)