Mr Ngudjolo was facing charges relating to the murder of 200 civilians in 2003, during the long conflict sparked by the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda. The massacre took place in the village of Bogoro in the Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Horrific stories emerged during the course of the trial, with reports of babies being smashed against walls and victims being burnt alive. The leader of a militia in the area at that time, Mr Ngudjolo had been accused of ordering the attack, but had himself claimed that he only heard about the incident after it happened. Prosecutors claimed that he had enlisted child soldiers to carry out the killings, and he was charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and another seven counts of war crimes.
Presiding judge Bruno Cotte announced that the court had acquitted Mr Ngudjolo on all charges, adding that the prosecution had failed to prove his guilt ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’. The decision was unanimous and vague contradictory witness testimony was cited as one of the main reasons.
“The chamber also emphasised that the fact of deciding that an accused is not guilty does not necessarily mean that the chamber finds him innocent,” the ICC said in a statement.
“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’.”
Mr Ngudjolo was released immediately following the court’s decision, but prosecutor Fatou Besnouda has already said that she intends to launch an appeal.
Human Rights Watch called for the ICC prosecutor to strengthen its investigations following the announcement, whilst the Coalition for the ICC, a campaign group which monitors the court’s work, described the verdict as a “hard blow for the victims”.