Why the Ngudjolo Acquittal Is Not Necessarily Bad News for the ICC

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about yesterday’s acquittal of Congolese rebel leader Mathieu Ngudjolo.

OSJI’s Eric Witte describes the verdict as a “worrying signal about the quality of ICC prosecutions,” while human rights groups suggest that the court has failed to provide justice to Congolese victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

These reactions are undoubtedly valid, but there’s a silver lining.

Courts have to do two things to establish their legitimacy. They must show that they can enforce accountability for unlawful behavior, and they must demonstrate their allegiance to the legal process rather than politics. That second criterion is a particular challenge for the International Criminal Court, a relatively new legal institution operating in a highly politicized context.

Yesterday’s acquittal shows that, although the ICC faces tremendous pressure to deliver convictions, it will not operate merely as a stamp on public consensus about a defendant’s guilt. If the prosecution failed to prove the charges against Ngudjolo beyond a reasonable doubt, then it is an important and positive development for international justice that the Trial Chamber declined to convict him.

Kate Cronin-Furman


  1. Legitimacy to whom? Will the conviction of a Hema (Lubanga), but release of a Lendu (Ngudjolo), seem legitimate to the people most affected by the atrocities?

  2. The ICC verdict shows the absurdity of foreign justice dropped on top of African communities. The financial cost aside, two verdicts in a decade in a country where war crimes occur everyday is like pulling a log up backwards up the Himalayas. In a stuation where a communities has wronged another gacaca courts work better than punitive justice. Watch Ituri’s futur.

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