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Congo war crimes trial ends in acquittal

By Brian Walker and Michael Pearson, CNN
updated 12:09 PM EST, Tue December 18, 2012
Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, May 15, 2012.
Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, May 15, 2012.
  • International Criminal Court acquits Congolese man accused of war crimes
  • The court said its decision doesn't mean Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui is necessarily innocent
  • But the court said prosecutors failed to prove their case
  • Human Rights Watch criticized the decision

(CNN) -- The International Criminal Court on Tuesday acquitted a Congolese man accused of brutal war crimes in 2003.

It is the first such acquittal for the court, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands.

Prosecutors accused Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui of responsibility for the 2003 massacre of hundreds of villagers in Bogoro, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Witnesses and testimony recounted brutal slayings and rapes against the residents, including women, children and people burned alive in the resource-rich village in the central African nation.

He was charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and seven counts of war crimes.

Rwandan president on war crime charges

The court decided prosecutors failed to present sufficient evidence that Chui had personally led the attacks or ordered child soldiers to carry out war crimes.

In a statement, the court said its judgment did not mean it believed no crimes were committed in Bogoro, or even that Chui was necessarily innocent; only that prosecutors hadn't proved their case.

Rights advocates criticized the judgment.

"The acquittal of Ngudjolo leaves the victims of Bogoro and other massacres by his forces without justice for their suffering," said Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, the international justice advocacy director for 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," she said. Bogoro is in Ituri province.

Prosecutors said they may appeal the decision. Chui remains jailed pending a hearing Tuesday afternoon, the court said.

The case against Chui is one of five brought by the court involving the conflict in Congo.

In the only other case so far concluded by the court, judges in July found Lubanga Dyilo guilty of forcing children to fight and sentenced him to 14 years in prison.

The court dismissed charges against one man. The verdict against another, Germain Katanga, is pending, the court said.

Two other men, Sylvestre Mudacumura and Bosco Ntaganda, both accused of war crimes, have not been captured, according to the court.

Read more: Prosecutor seeks new Congo war crimes warrants

Brian Walker and Michael Pearson reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Richard Greene in London also contributed to this report.

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