The Hague, December 18, 2012 (FH) – The International Criminal Court Tuesday acquitted alleged former militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo of all charges of crimes against humanity committed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003. The presiding judge ordered his immediate release and requested the Court Registry to “take all necessary steps to protect witnesses”.

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Presiding judge Bruno Cotte said that in view of all the evidence presented, “the Chamber has not been able to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was the leader of the Lendu fighters  who took part in the attack on Bogoro on February 24, 2003”.

The judges also found that three key prosecution witnesses who testified -- behind closed doors and with their identities protected -- that Ngudjolo was present in Bogoro on the day of the attack were not credible.

Before delivering the verdict, presiding judge Bruno Cotte said that “declaring an accused person not guilty does not mean the Chamber declares him innocent”. The French judge stressed that this decision “does not in any way deny the suffering of the population on that day”.

Mathieu Ngudjolo was tried jointly with Germain Katanga. However, on November 21, the judges separated the two cases, after deciding a modification of the mode of liability with which Katanga is charged. The verdict in his case is not expected until spring 2013.

During the session, the presiding judge reminded the prosecution that it may seek a suspension of the release order pending appeal.

This is the second verdict in the ICC’s ten year history, following the verdict on Thomas Lubanga earlier this year. Former Congolese militia leader Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years in jail for recruiting child soldiers and using them to fight. He is appealing.