On December 18, Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) acquitted former Congolese militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui of the seven war crimes and three crimes against humanity prosecutors had charged him with. Now, Ngudjolo wishes to seek asylum in Belgium instead of returning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Following the announcement of Ngudjolo’s acquittal, ICC judges ordered his release from court custody. The prosecution appealed the decision to immediately release Ngudjolo and argued that the order should be suspended until the Appeals Chamber had made a decision. On December 20, the Appeals Chamber rejected the request for suspension, and the following day, Ngudjolo was handed over to Dutch authorities so he could be transferred to the DRC. His removal from the Netherlands is still pending because he is unable to travel until a UN Security Council travel ban against him is lifted.
The prosecution has since decided to drop its appeal of the trial chamber’s decision to release Ngudjolo. Instead, prosecutors said they would monitor the security situation of witnesses who testified on behalf of the prosecution and would raise concerns with the court if any witnesses were in danger because of Ngudjolo’s release. Ngudjolo was on trial at the ICC for crimes allegedly committed in Bogoro, a village in the Ituri Province in eastern DRC from January to March 2003. Prosecution witnesses testified that Ngudjolo and his co-accused Germain Katanga planned the attack on Bogoro and that their respective militias committed acts of sexual violence and used child soldiers.
Ngudjolo requested Trial Chamber II put protective measures in place, specifically asking to be transferred to Belgium, where he says he would ask for asylum. Ngudjolo argued that his life would be in danger if he returned to the DRC because during his testimony he accused the government of responsibility for the Bogoro attack. This constitutes a threat to persecution for a political belief, which he argues makes him eligible for refugee status under the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention. This, Ngudjolo notes, is the same argument defense witnesses have made in their asylum claims in the Netherlands.
The trial chamber, however, held that since it had transferred the case to the Appeals Chamber, it did not have the authority to decide on this request. Ngudjolo has brought his request to the attention of the Appeals Chamber, where it is pending.