Rwandan leader "respectable face" of rebels, court hears
Rwandan rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana was the "respectable face" of a plan to murder and rape Congolese citizens to gain political power in Kigali, the International Criminal Court heard Friday.
Identified as the executive secretary of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group, Mbarushimana, 48, faces 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo's provinces of Nord Kivu and Sud Kivu in 2009.
"Mr Mbarushimana represented the respectable public face of the FDLR," the court's deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said at the opening day of a hearing to confirm charges against Mbarushimana.
Arrested in Paris in October last year and later transferred to The Hague, Mbarushimana, wearing a navy-blue jacket, white shirt and red tie, showed no emotion as the charges against him were read out.
He is accused of plotting a "human catastrophe" of murder, rape and plunder by the Hutu FDLR in the Kivus in a campaign to make the international community put pressure on Kigali to deal with the exiled movement, Bensouda told a three-judge bench.
"He was the linchpin, the man who could transform crimes committed in the Kivus into political leverage in Rwanda," she said at the hearing which will determine whether Mbarushimana's case goes to trial or not.
"He spoke the language of peace," Bensouda said.
"But behind the message of peace, however, the implicit threat was that unless enemies stop trying to oust them (FDLR), the killings of civilians would continue."
Bensouda said she did not accuse Mbarushimana, a former UN computer technician, of knowing about "each crime that had been committed in the field", but he "knew that crimes were committed."
She said his continued denials helped the FDLR to proceed with its operations.
Nick Kaufman, Mbarushimana's lawyer said his team would prove his client's innocence.
"I put the challenge to the prosecution to prove that there is any evidence, however small it may be, that Mr Mbarushimana ever condoned attacks against civilians," Kaufman said.
"We will prove that the evidence for the commission of these crimes simply does not exist," he added.
Four days of hearings are scheduled for this preliminary phase for a possible trial, during which the prosecution will try to convince the judges of the strength of their case.
The defence will also have the opportunity to present its views.
Mbarushimana was involved, prosecutors say, in formulating "a common plan" with FDLR president Ignace Murwanashyaka, who was arrested in November 2009 in Germany, with his deputy Straton Musoni.
The two went on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes on May 4 in Stuttgart.
The FDLR is considered one of the main causes of disturbances in the African Great Lakes region, and particularly in the DR Congo, where more than 15,000 cases of sexual violence were reported in 2009, according to the ICC prosecutor.
An ethnic Hutu, Mbarushimana is also wanted in Rwanda for his role in the murder of Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, court documents said. He later moved to France were he was given refugee status in 2003.
© 2011 AFP