Rwandan rebel leader face world crimes court charges hearing

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Rwandan rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana will face world court judges this week in a hearing to confirm charges for his alleged role in the murder, rape and torture of Congolese civilians in 2009.

Prosecutors will try to convince International Criminal Court (ICC) judges that they have enough evidence to proceed to a war crimes and crimes against humanity trial against the 48-year-old Mbarushimana.

Lawyers for the man identified as the executive secretary of the FDLR rebel group will be also given a chance to refute the charges in a hearing that opens Wednesday and is set to last three days.

After the hearing closes, judges at the Hague-based court will have a maximum of 60 days to decide whether there are grounds to move to trial.

ICC prosecutors suspect the former computer technician of five counts of crimes against humanity and six war crimes committed in 2009 in two provinces in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kivu Nord and Kivu Sud.

Mbarushimana stands accused of having "personally and intentionally contributed" to plotting "widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population in order to create a humanitarian catastrophe".

The attacks included murder, rape and torture against Congolese civilians. Prosecutors believe he "directed or helped to direct" from Paris the abuses carried out in clashes between the FDLR and both the Congolese and Rwandan armies.

Prosecutors further allege that FDLR members forced civilian men to rape women, mutilated the genitals of rape victims, cut open the wombs of pregnant women to remove their fetuses, and burnt down homes.

The FDLR, considered one of the most active rebel groups in the volatile Great Lakes region, is "the last incarnation of the group of persons who committed the 1994 genocide in Rwanda," ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has previously said.

More than 15,000 cases of sexual violence have been reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2009.

Mbarushimana's lawyer Nick Kaufman told AFP the defense will "argue and will prove that there is no evidence to support the charges... against Mr Mbarushimana," who he added "was not guilty of the offenses the prosecution has alleged he has committed."

Kaufman said the ICC prosecutor's case "solely relied on human rights reports coming from NGOs... whose sources are unverified and unreliable."

He charged the prosecution was carried away "by the need to find a culprit, a scapegoat for the awful crimes that were committed in the northern part of the Kivus in 2009."

"Mr Mbarushimana was an easy target for the Office of the Prosecutor, living as he was in France and without hiding," Kaufman said.

Mbarushimana was arrested on an ICC warrant in October last year in Paris, where he had been living as a political refugee since 2002, and was delivered to the world court in January.

Imprisoned at the UN's detention centre in The Hague, he made an initial appearance before the ICC on January 28 when he protested his innocence.

© 2011 AFP

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