Dutch immigration authorities have denied asylum applications from three Congolese witnesses who testified in the trials of Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Dutch Council of State upheld this decision and also found that the witnesses could safely be returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The three witnesses were brought to The Hague in March 2011 to testify in the defense of Katanga and Ngudjolo, who were charged by the ICC with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during an attack on Bogoro, a village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The witnesses had been imprisoned in the DRC pending charges related to the conflict there. Therefore, they were incarcerated at the ICC Detention Center during their time in The Hague.
During their testimony, the witnesses implicated the president of the DRC, Joseph Kabila, in crimes committed in Bogoro. For this, they claim, they will face torture or death if they are returned to the DRC. Therefore, they claimed asylum in the Netherlands.
Dutch immigration authorities rejected their asylum requests, and the witnesses appealed. However, the appeal failed.
According to the Dutch high administrative court, immigration officials correctly rejected the witnesses’ asylum applications. The court upheld the finding that there was a serious reason to believe they have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, which means the 1951 Refugee Convention does not apply to them.
The Dutch court also found the witnesses could be safely returned to the DRC.
The ICC Registry obtained assurances from the DRC about the safe treatment of the witnesses, including that they would not be subject to the death penalty. In September 2011, Trial Chamber II of the ICC decided that the witnesses could be securely returned to the DRC based on those assurances. These and other assurances about the witnesses’ security have recently been affirmed by the DRC, the Dutch court noted.
The Dutch court considered this a sufficient basis to return to witnesses to the DRC with no threat to their safety or violation of their human rights. It attached “great importance” to the assurances of the DRC. The Dutch court also noted that the ICC Victims and Witnesses Unit should oversee the domestic proceedings against the witnesses and continue to assess their safety upon their return.
The witnesses’ lawyers have said they will bring the case before the European Court of Human Rights to fight their deportation.