, THE HAGUE, Dec 16 – The International Criminal Court on Tuesday will hand down its judgement against Congolese ex-militia boss Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, accused of using child soldiers in a 2003 attack on a village in the vast Central African country, killing 200 people.
Once one of the most important militia leaders in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s mineral-rich Ituri province, Chui will face a three-judge bench at a public hearing at 9:00 am (0800 GMT) at the Hague-based court’s headquarters.
Now 42, Chui faces seven war crimes charges including using child soldiers to fight in his militia and three crimes against humanity charges for the bloody massacre of 200 villagers at Bogoro village on February 23, 2003.
It is the first time the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal will hand down a verdict for murder.
Summing up the case in May, the court’s then deputy chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda recounted witness testimony on how victims were burnt alive, babies smashed against walls and women forced to serve as sex slaves.
“Child soldiers are said to have attacked Bogoro village, killing civilians, destroying property and pillaging,” a charge sheet summary states.
“Civilians were allegedly arrested and imprisoned by… combatants who locked them up in a room which was filled with the corpses of men, women and children,” it added.
The attack by ethnic Lendu and Ngiti-based rebel armies on Bogoro was “intended to ‘wipe out’ or ‘raze’ (the) village by killing the predominantly Hema population,” in order to secure Lendu and Ngiti control of the main route to Ituri’s provincial capital Bunia.
A former deserter from the old Zaire army (FAZ) in 1996, Chui became leader of the Lendu-based Nationalist Integrationist Front (FNI) rebel movement and “had ultimate control over FNI commanders.”
Bensouda, today the ICC’s chief prosecutor, said at the time the evidence showed that Chui was “guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crimes imputed on him.”
If found guilty, Chui could face up to 30 years in jail, or, if the judges deem the case to be particularly severe, life behind bars.
Chui, who pleaded not guilty at the start of his trial on November 24, 2009, told judges he learnt of the attack a few days after it happened during a “meeting with generals.”
His job as a trained nurse was “of a humanitarian nature”, Chui said, denying he was ever a militia member.
His ally Germain Katanga faces similar charges but that case will be handled at a later stage, judges said.
During the trial, 24 witnesses and experts appeared for the prosecution, 28 for the defence.
Chui was arrested by Congolese authorities and transferred to the ICC on October 17, 2007.
His main adversary, Hema former militia leader Thomas Lubanga, was sentenced in July to 14 years behind bars for using child soldiers in his own rebel army.
The court has issued two other arrest warrants in DR Congo: one for M23 rebel group general Bosco Ntaganda, also nicknamed “The Terminator” and the other for Rwandan Hutu warlord Sylvestre Mudacumura.
In 2003, DR Congo was just starting to emerge from a war that embroiled the armies of a half-dozen nations and the isolated east was rife with violent militia groups.
Clashes in Ituri province broke out in 1999, and devastated the region, said the indictment, leaving some 60,000 dead, according to non-government group tallies.