UN sees “beginning of end of impunity” in Congo with arrest of Rwandan FDLR rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana
Kigali – The UN envoy that has campaigned for action over the past months on FDLR and Mai Mai rebels for gang raping hundreds of women, men and babies, says the arrest of Callixte Mbarushimana is a “signal” that impunity in eastern DRC will be punished.
Margot Wallstrom, the UN envoy for sexual violence says the arrest of Mbarushimana on an ICC sealed warrant is “welcome” news but that more FDLR commanders on the ground must be apprehended.
“We now need to engage all the resources at our disposal to apprehend other individuals allegedly involved in orchestrating the mass rapes which occurred in Walikale, including following the trail of ‘Colonel’ Serafim,” said Wallstrom in a statement, referring to the FDLR commander directly suspected.
The Mbarushimana arrest comes following comments she made on September 27 to a session of the UN Human Rights Council that her office has names of FDLR and Mai Mai rebels that committed the rapes over a 4-day period in early August. The rebels rampaged in more than 13 villages.
“We already have some names, such as Colonel Mayele, the Mai Mai Cheka chief of staff, and Colonel Serafim of FDLR,” she reportedly said in the meeting.
Last week, Mayele was taken into custody by a joint MONUSCO-Congolese operation. With the latest nabbing of Mbarushimana, the UN envoy calls it a “very important signal to all perpetrators in the DRC that crimes of sexual violence are not tolerated.”
“…we hope to finally see the beginning of the end of impunity for crimes of sexual violence in the DRC,” said Wallstrom.
According to ICC indictment papers, Mbarushimana and other FDLR leaders are accused of “having used violence against civilians as their main bargaining tool” in an international campaign to extort from Rwanda and the international community political power for the FDLR.
In a statement summarizing allegations against Mbarushimana, the court said the rebels deliberately sparked “a massive humanitarian catastrophe,” then offered to end the atrocities in exchange for political power.
“As a result of this deadly blackmail, victims were killed, raped and forcibly displaced, and entire villages were razed to the ground,” the court alleges.
No date has been set for Mbarushimana to be transferred from Paris to The Hague.
The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement the arrest “shows France’s constant will to fight impunity.”
Alain Gauthier, who heads a French advocacy group for Rwandan genocide survivors (CPCR), praised the arrest but said Mbarushimana also should be tried for the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis.
The court said he was charged with 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, persecution based on gender and extensive destruction of property committed by the FDLR in 2009.
With Mbarushimana now off the scene, the FDLR do not have any know civilian leadership. The other top heads Dr. Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni are in detention in Germany since mid this year on war crimes.