The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nations' principal judicial organ based in The Hague, has ruled that it lacks jurisdiction to consider an application filed in May 2002 by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) against neighbouring Rwanda.
"The court has come to the conclusion that it cannot accept any of the grounds put forward by the DRC to establish its jurisdiction in the present case," said Shi Jiuyong, ICJ president, when he delivered the court's ruling after a 15-2 vote on Friday.
He said the court had based its judgment on two major points: that the DRC had failed to prove it had attempted to settle the dispute amicably or seek arbitration - a precondition to any application; and that Rwanda had rejected the court's jurisdiction.
In its complaint, DRC accused Rwanda of massive, serious and flagrant violations of human rights and international humanitarian law during its 1998-2002 occupation of the eastern part of the DRC.
However, Rwanda has said it invaded and occupied eastern DRC because of a threat to its own security. Members of Rwanda's former government army (the ex-FAR) and thousands of Hutu militiamen, many of whom are accused of taking part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, had fled there.
"The court cannot entertain a dispute unless the states concerned have consented to its jurisdiction," Juiyong said at a news conference.
After the ruling, Martin Ngoga, Rwanda's deputy prosecutor-general, said, "From the beginning, I have been quite confident with our arguments and submissions to the court."
Ngoga and Joseph Bonesha, Rwanda's ambassador to Brussels, represented their country during the hearing of the case.
The ICJ ruling cannot be appealed. Ntumba Luaba Lumu, secretary-general of the DRC and head of DRC delegation to the ICJ, said his country would now take its complaint to the newly created African Union Court of Justice.
"We take note that the court has given a certificate of universal impunity to Rwanda," Ntumba Luaba said. Because Rwanda could not be sued as a state, he said, the DRC would file complaints against individuals to the UN Criminal Tribunal, also based in The Hague.
Friday's ruling came one month after a verdict in favour of the DRC in a similar case against Uganda.
Between 1998 and 2003, Uganda and Rwanda occupied parts of eastern DRC, where they allegedly committed human rights abuses, violated international humanitarian laws and illegally exploited DRC's mineral resources.
"In the case against Uganda, things were easier, as both states had accepted the court's jurisdiction," Ntumba Luaba said. Uganda was compelled to pay compensation to the DRC for damages caused during its occupation.