Former Congolese rebel leader acquitted for war crimes
The International Criminal Court (ICC) Tuesday acquitted former Congolese rebel leader Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui of war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to a deadly 2003 assault on a village in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), saying it could not convict him "beyond reasonable doubt" based on the evidence presented.
Hundreds of people were killed in the Feb 24, 2003 attack on the village of Bogoro in Ituri province and many women forced into sexual slavery.
Ngudjolo, a former commander of the National Integrationalist Front (FNI), had been charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and seven of war crimes, and was alleged to have played a key role in designing and carrying out the Bogoro attack.
In a unanimous decision, the Court's Trial Chamber determined that it has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant was the commander of the Lendu combatants from Bedu-Ezekere during the attack against Bogoro village on Feb 24, 2003.
"As a result, the Chamber is of the view that the Prosecution has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui was responsible, within the meaning of article 25-3 of the Rome Statute [which set up the ICC], for the crimes allegedly committed during the attack. Hence, the judges decided to acquit the accused," it stated in a news release.
The Chamber emphasized, however, that the approach it adopted does not mean that, in its opinion, no crimes were committed in Bogoro on Feb 24, 2003 nor does it question what the people of this community have suffered on that day.
It also emphasized that the fact of deciding that an accused is not guilty does not necessarily mean that the Chamber finds him innocent. "Such a decision simply demonstrates that, given the standard of proof, the evidence presented to support his guilt has not allowed the Chamber to form a conviction 'beyond reasonable doubt,'" it said.
The Trial Chamber has ordered that the necessary steps be taken to release Ngudjolo, whose trial began in November 2009, and dismissed the Prosecution's request to have him kept in custody pending the appeal of the verdict.
Ruling on the request, the Chamber considered that there are no exceptional circumstances which would justify Ngudjolo's continued detention, and that "freedom was the rule and detention the exception."
A verdict in the case against Germain Katanga - another former Congolese rebel leader also on trial for crimes allegedly committed in relation to the Bogoro attack - will be delivered at a later stage.
Located in The Hague, in the Netherlands, the ICC is an independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern - namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.