ICC acquits Congolese warlord for crimes against humanity

Congolese warlord Ngudjolo was acquitted of all charges of war crimes at the International Criminal Court today, raising doubts about the case against better-known, co-accused Katanga.

Robin van Lonkhuijsen/AP
Former leader of the National Integrationist Front Mathieu Ngudjolo awaits his verdict at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 18. Ngudjolo was acquitted of all charges of war crimes at the ICC on Tuesday.

Congolese warlord Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui was acquitted of all charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday, a blow for victims of Congo wars a decade ago.

The verdict – only the second in the war crimes court's 10-year history, and its first acquittal – is a setback for the ICC's prosecutors who judges said had failed to link Ngudjolo to atrocities in northeastern Congo in 2003.

The acquittal also raises doubts about the case against Ngudjolo's better-known co-accused, warlord Germain Katanga who is charged with similar crimes. Judges prolonged Katanga's trial last month, a move that some academics say could make it easier to get a conviction.

The violence in northeastern Ituri district was a localized ethnic clash over land and resources, one of the myriad of conflicts which spun out of Congo's wider 1998-2003 war that sucked in multiple neighboring states.

The conflict was not directly related to the current insurgency by M23 rebels in neighboring North Kivu province, but some of the fighters involved in this latest east Congo rebellion, notably M23 leader Bosco Ntaganda, were directly involved in the Ituri fighting.

Ntaganda is also wanted by the ICC for war crimes relating to the 2003 Ituri events.

Prosecutors said Ngudjolo directed fighters to block roads to and from the village of Bogoro in February 2003 in order to kill civilians attempting to flee and that civilians, including women and small children were burned alive inside their homes.

Two hundred people were killed during and after the attack on the village when ethnic Lendu and Ngiti fighters allegedly destroyed the homes of the village's mainly Hema inhabitants.

"It was a very concise incident," Nick Kaufmann, an international criminal lawyer, said.

"The prosecution failed to investigate the chain of command adequately as far as the attack in Bogoro is concerned."

The ICC judges stressed that atrocities had been committed during the conflict, but said the witnesses prosecutors had chosen to testify to Ngudjolo's involvement were not credible.

"This does not in any way throw into question what befell the people of that area on that day," presiding judge Bruno Cotte said.

Fatou Bensouda, who took over as the ICC's chief prosecutor this year, asked that judges keep Ngudjolo in detention pending an appeal.

Unlikely to be overturned

But legal experts said it was unlikely the acquittal would be overturned because new evidence cannot be introduced at appeal, and appeals courts rarely reassess the credibility of witnesses.

"The acquittal of Ngudjolo leaves the victims of Bogoro and other massacres by his forces without justice for their suffering," said Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

"The ICC prosecutor needs to strengthen its investigations of those responsible for grave crimes in Ituri, including high-ranking officials in Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda who supported the armed groups fighting there."

Judges last month split the cases against Katanga and Ndgujolo, postponing the verdict in the case against the better-known warlord until next year and giving prosecutors time to build a case centered around the claim that Katanga was part of a criminal plan to commit war crimes.

That decision, which would allow Katanga to be convicted even if he had not committed or ordered war crimes, has been appealed by the defense and criticized by scholars and by dissenting judge Christine van den Wyngaert, who said the decision would cause Katanga "irreparable prejudice".

Thomas Lubanga, the court's first convict, was sentenced to 14 years earlier this year for his role on another side that participated in the same conflict.

"Lubanga was a Hema leader, and the acquittal of a Ngudjolo, a Lendu, just after the conviction of a Hema could exacerbate tension between the two ethnicities in Ituri," Jennifer Easterday of the Open Society Justice Initiative said.

Judges will later today decide if Ngudjolo must be held in detention pending his appeal.

(This story has been corrected to add Ngudjolo's first name in paragraph one)

(Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Michael Roddy)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to ICC acquits Congolese warlord for crimes against humanity
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Latest-News-Wires/2012/1218/ICC-acquits-Congolese-warlord-for-crimes-against-humanity
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe