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Rwanda Hutu Leader Faces ICC

Rwandan rebel group leader Callixte Mbarushimana makes his initial appearance before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, January 28, 2011

A Rwandan rebel leader appeared before the International Criminal Court on Friday facing charges of murder, torture and rape of Congolese civilians.

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court, or ICC, say Calixte Mbarushimana was a top leader of the Rwandan rebel group FDLR who spread terror in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Prosecutors say he directed operations from France, where he’s been living in exile since 2002.

Mbarushimana spoke before war crimes judges on Friday.

He said all his life he has fought injustice, hatred of other people and all forms of exploitation.

Mbarushimana is accused of 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes carried out by his rebel forces - that includes murder, rape, and torture. He said Friday he has “in no way” been involved in any of those crimes.

He said he condemns attacks on innocent civilians.

Mbarushimana hasn’t yet entered a formal plea.

Geraldine Mattioli, from the New York-based campaign group Human Rights Watch, says it’s an important step for Mbarushimana, who was living in France for almost a decade before French authorities handed him over to the ICC last year, to finally face trial. And, she says, it’s not the only such case in Europe. Germany arrested two top FDLR leaders in 2009; they’re awaiting trial.

"I think there has been some commitment on the part of the European Union for some time now to take care of these kind of networks supporting this rebel group the FDLR in Congo," she said.

But she adds the battle shouldn’t stop with Mbarushimana. She says there are many armed groups in DRC’s eastern provinces that are responsible for ongoing atrocities.

"Other groups in the Kivus have been involved in committing very serious crimes. I'm thinking here of the Mai Mai, the CNDP - a Congolese Tutsi group, and the Congolese army itself. In this campaign in 2009 all of these groups have committed very serious crimes against civilians," she said.

She says new arrest warrants should be made for the leaders of these other armed groups.