International Criminal Court judges have dismissed charges against a Rwandan rebel accused of involvement in the
murder, rape and torture of Congolese villagers by a Hutu militia in 2009.
The judges on Friday ordered the release of Callixte Mbarushimana, saying there is not enough evidence to support the charges against him.
"Today, 16 December 2011, the pre-trial chamber decided by majority, presiding Judge Sanji Mmasemono Monageng dissenting, to decline to confirm the charges in the case of The Prosecutor v. Callixte Mbarushimana," the court said
in a statement.
It is possible prosecutors will appeal and seek to block his release.
Prosecutors had accused Mbarushimana of being a senior member of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which unleashed violence against civilians in the North and South Kivu provinces of DR Congo as a "bargaining tool" to win power.
"We welcome this brave decision which is a moment of truth and vindication for Callixte Mbarushimana."
- Nick Kaufman, Mbarushimana's lawyer
In an unusual case at the court, prosecutors accused Mbarushimana of contributing to crimes from an apartment in Paris where he lived "by orchestrating an international campaign of propaganda and extortion'' to force Rwanda to accept the return of the rebels who had fled the country after its 1994 genocide.
In a majority decision, a three judge panel said evidence presented at a preliminary hearing in September was not strong enough to merit sending the case to trial.
The evidence was "not sufficient to establish substantial grounds to believe that the Suspect encouraged the troops' morale through his press releases and radio messages, and, therefore, he could have not provided ... a significant contribution to the commission of crimes," two judges wrote in their decision.
Nick Kaufman, the lawyer who represented Mbarushimana at the preliminary hearing, praised the decision.
"We welcome this brave decision which is a moment of truth and vindication for Callixte Mbarushimana," Kaufman told The Associated Press news agency in an email.
Mbarushimana was arrested in Paris in October 2010, and transferred to the court in The Hague.
He faced 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity but always maintained his innocence.
If he is freed, Mbarushimana would be the first suspect released from ICC custody since the court's inception in 2002.