Four days before Christmas, the guards brought Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui his suitcase. It was time for him to leave. A few days earlier, he had been acquitted of three counts of crimes against humanity and seven counts of war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). After 1,779 days in detention—almost five years in total—Ngudjolo was discharged from the court’s detention center in The Hague.
Ngudjolo is a former member of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Nationalist and Integrationist Front militia and was accused of murder, sexual slavery, and rape. In the early hours of February 24, 2003, a group of armed men invaded the village of Bogoro in eastern Congo while its residents slept. The men burned people alive, threw babies against walls, and took women as sex slaves. By the end of the afternoon, 200 people were dead. According to the ICC prosecutors, Ngudjolo commanded the attack. During his trial, however, none of the witnesses could confirm that he was indeed the group’s leader. And so, in 2012, Ngudjolo became the first person to be found not guilty by the ICC.
Ngudjolo is 44 years old and wears dark jeans and a lavender white-striped shirt. A watch that is too big is dangling around his left wrist as he gestures. Two years after his acquittal, he is still living a life of waiting and fighting. When his war crimes trial ended, a new struggle began. In the absence of any regulations or procedures for war crimes acquittees, neither the ICC nor the Netherlands as its host state really knew what should happen to him. For lack of a better place, Ngudjolo was brought to a hotel in The Hague, where he stayed for several months. Later, the ICC rented a small apartment for him and paid for his food. Ngudjolo has since picked
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