By Sophie van Leeuwen
Even though he’s a free man, he doesn’t look very happy. Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui just wrote a piece of history at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Today, the Congolese suspect became the first person to be acquitted by The Hague court.
The public gallery is packed with journalists and law students. We all want to know how this legal battle is going to end. It took about seven years to get to this point: the appeals ruling.
He was accused of being one of the “bad guys” in the Ituri conflict in eastern Congo. According to the prosecutor, Ngudjolo commanded a bloody attack on the village of Bogoro in 2003. Adults and children were killed, and women were forced to become sex slaves.
A majority of the appeal judges were not convinced by the evidence, nor by the objections made by Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. Judge Sanji Monageng confirmed the 2012 acquittal and rejected the appeal.
“It’s a sentiment of joy”, says Ngudjolo’s well-dressed lawyer, Jean-Pierre Kilenda. We meet outside of the court. His client can be satisfied. “After all these years, we are physically and emotionally exhausted. We asked him to stay calm.”
Photo: Jean-Pierre Kilenda (Sophie van Leeuwen/Justice Hub)
The accused was very lucky, according to Fidel Nsita Luvengika, who represents raped women and the victims of murder and pillage. “Judges Tarfusser and Trendafilova disagreed with the other judges. There was a strong debate about this acquittal.”
According to Luvengika, “the prosecutor needed the Chamber’s authorisation to verify the content of phone taps, in which Ngudjolo apparently intimidated and instructed witnesses in Congo.” That makes Kilenda laugh. He won! “Does that not prove Ngudjolo’s innocence?”
Photo: Fidel Nsita Luvengika (Sophie van Leeuwen/Justice Hub)
Right after the acquittal, Ngudjolo was arrested by the Dutch police. Maybe that’s why Ngudjolo is looking so sad. He knew his freedom wouldn’t last for long. The Dutch want to send him back to Congo tonight. According to his lawyer, Ngudjolo fears for his life.
Kilenda: “He presented a written document that proves the attack on Bogoro was planned by the office of the president of Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila. This is a legitimate reason to fear persecution back in Congo. If something happens to him, that means a historical responsibility for the ICC member states.” According to Kilenda, the ICC Victims and Witness Unit is responsible for his safety.
Ngudjolo’s lawyers are trying to stop the Dutch authorities from sending him back to Congo. They have a filed a petition with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Update: On Friday evening, a judge temporarily blocked Ngudjolo’s deportation, saying a further investigation is needed to see if he faces persecution in the DRC.
Dr. Meddy is a cartoonist who works for Cartoon Movement.