The German police finally arrested Ignace Murwanashyaka, the president of the FDLR, on charges of being involved in a terrorist organization. This is very good news. Ignace had been living in Germany since the 1980s when he came to the country to study. He got a PhD in economics, married a German woman, and obtained political asylum. In 2001, he became the head of the FDLR's political wing in effort of rebranding the organization by the military commanders - Ignace had no record of being involved in the 1994 genocide.
It was clear that Ignace was in charge of the FDLR - he himself proudly said so, and there are almost daily phone calls between him and General Mudacumura, the commander of the FDLR in the Congo, to prove it. If you talk to the FDLR on the ground, they all know Ignace and identify him as their leader. Former FDLR officers have described how Ignace use to call Mudacumura and other commanders and give them orders, as during the Kimia II offensive, when Ignace called to urge them to use all of their ammunition, as more would soon be forthcoming. The last two UN Group of Experts reports (another will be out in a few weeks) and the BBC have documented this.
The Germans had been slow in acting for two reasons. First, they didn't seem to see this with any urgency. When UN officials approached German prosecutors to take action, they said they either did not have enough evidence showing that Ignace had real control over the FDLR, they didn't have enough information on FDLR abuses in the Congo, or there were no laws against such activity on the books in Germany. This last point was probably the most important one - in many countries there are limited laws against being member of a foreign rebel group, especially one that does not impinge on the host state's interests. When I was with the UN and we approached the USA, France and other countries about FDLR operatives, they all said that they respected free speech and that these people had themselves not done anything illegal (although they admitted their organizations may have). There is therefore a legal problem, one which the German's solved by trying Ignace on charges of terrorism.
This will hopefully set a precedent for how other states can act. The other most active member of the FDLR in the Diaspora, Callixte Mbarushimana, is based in France, from where he publishes press statements and talks to the media. The French government has repeatedly said they are not aware of anything illegal he has done, and they respect free speech. In the US, two leaders of a splinter faction of the FDLR, the RUD-URUNANA, which controls around 200-300 troops in North Kivu, are being watched by Homeland Security, but there, as well, the authorities have seen little grounds to act. They say that the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Statute, which allows US courts to try foreigners, would be difficult to apply because the RUD leaders (Felicien Kanyamibwa and Jean-Marie Vianney Higiro) were not directly involved in crimes, they are just member of armed groups. It still may be possible to get them for material support to a terrorist organization (FDLR's predecessor ALiR was on a terrorist watchlist in the US) or for having committed fraud on their immigration documents. At the moment, nobody seems to be trying.
We also need to understand the limits of prosecuting the Diaspora. Ignace and Callixte are important symbolically and in terms of the troops morale - they represent the hope the the FDLR will one day engage in political negotiations with the Rwandan government, that they are a legitimate armed group. But they are not very important in terms of the financing and arming of the rebels - the FDLR get the vast majority of their funds from local taxation rackets. So the arrest of Ignace will not have a Savimbi-like effect, for example.
For more information on FDLR Diaspora leaders, see my October blog post here.