ICC threatens to return asylum-seeking witnesses to Congo
The International Criminal Court on Monday threatened to return to their home country three Congolese witness-detainees who sought asylum in the Netherlands almost three years ago, pressing the Dutch authorities for a decision.
The unnamed witnesses were sent from a prison in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to testify in March 2011 in the cases of Congolese ex-militia bosses Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui and Germain Katanga.
"The Appeals Chamber ordered the ICC Registrar to take the necessary steps to return the witnesses, without delay, to the DRC after consultation with the authorities of the Netherlands," the Hague-based ICC said in a statement.
The three witnesses were detained at the ICC's detention unit and applied for Dutch asylum shortly after giving evidence, saying they would be persecuted back home after incriminating President Joseph Kabila.
The ICC ruled they could not be sent home before a decision was made on their asylum applications.
However, almost three years after they testified and filed asylum claims, their case is still pending before the Dutch Supreme Court, their lawyer Ghislain Mabanga told AFP.
The ICC "cannot serve as an administrative detention unit for asylum seekers of persons otherwise involved in judicial proceedings with the Host State (the Netherlands)," the court said.
The three men had been in a Kinshasa prison pending trial for alleged war crimes.
Ngudjolo and Katanga were accused of being involved in the massacre of more than 200 people in the village of Bogoro in the DRCongo's restive northeastern Ituri province in 2003.
The witnesses' testimony included the allegation that President Kabila had a hand in the Bogoro attack.
The three, who themselves were being held in a Kinshasa prison pending trial for alleged war crimes, said they feared for their lives if sent back to the DRC.
In December 2012, Ngudjolo was acquitted of war crimes after judges said prosecutors failed to prove his commanding role in the Bogoro attack.
Katanga, whose case had since been separated from Ngudjolo's, is to face an ICC judgement for war crimes on February 7.
The Dutch authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday night.
© 2014 AFP