The International Criminal Court on Friday upheld its acquittal of Congolese militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo, two years after finding him not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In a 3-2 majority ruling, the Hague-based court rejected an appeal by prosecutors, who sought a retrial in the case.
Ngudjolo was charged in connection with a 2003 massacre at a village that left about 200 people dead in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Many of the victims were hacked to death with machetes.
Prosecutors alleged that Ngudjolo used child soldiers, directed attacks against civilians, and that combatants under his command committed murder, rape and acts of pillaging and sexual slavery.
The ICC ruled in December 2012 that prosecutors failed to prove Ngudjolo's connection beyond a reasonable doubt. It was only the court's second verdict, and the first time it had cleared a suspect.
In their appeal, prosecutors argued the trial judges made mistakes in assessing the evidence. They also said they were denied a fair trial because they could not cross-examine Ngudjolo and other key witnesses on claims of witness interference.
But presiding judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng suggested that “ the trial chambers errors had no material impact on the acquittal decision."
A lawyer for the victims told reporters that the appeals ruling reopens the grieving process for the victims.
Human Rights Watch said the ruling reflected the prosecutors' weak case. The group also said the ICC's prosecutor should follow up on evidence raised in Ngudjolo's trial that suggests senior officials in Kinshasa and in neighboring countries supported various armed groups in the eastern DRC.