In second verdict, war crimes court acquits Congolese

Tue Dec 18, 2012 1:43pm EST
 
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By Thomas Escritt

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Congolese militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui was acquitted at the Hague war crimes court on Tuesday, after prosecutors failed to prove he ordered atrocities in eastern Congo a decade ago.

Delivering only its second verdict in 10 years of existence, the International Criminal Court (ICC) found Ngudjolo not guilty of ordering killings during a war in Ituri district in 2003. In its first ever verdict, delivered in July, the court had jailed an opposing commander, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, for 14 years.

Ngudjolo was accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including overseeing killings, rape and pillage. His prosecutors will appeal the verdict and, though the court said Ngudjolo should be freed in the meantime, it was not immediately clear that he could leave the ICC detention facility for now.

The judges said they had no doubt the people of Ituri suffered the massacres described at Ngudjolo's trial and critics of the ICC called for better prosecutions in future in order that victims and their surviving relatives should have justice.

"The people trusted the International Criminal Court more than our national courts," said Emmanuel Folo of Ituri human rights group Equitas. "After this decision, for those who were victims of this, there is a feeling of disappointment. The victims feel forgotten, abandoned by international justice."

The violence in Ituri was a localized ethnic clash over land and resources among myriad conflicts that spun out of the wider war in Democratic Republic of Congo from 1998 to 2003.

Some rebels involved in the current M23 insurgency in neighboring North Kivu province were involved in fighting in Ituri - among them M23 leader Bosco Ntaganda, who is himself on the ICC wanted list for war crimes alleged in Ituri in 2003.

VILLAGE MASSACRE   Continued...

 
Congolese warlord Ngudjolo Chui (L) sits in the courtroom during his trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague December 18, 2012. REUTERS/Robin van Lonkhuijsen/Pool