Netherlands court allows ICC witnesses to seek asylum

[JURIST] A Dutch court on Wednesday ruled that three Congolese witnesses who testified in an International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] case against militia leader Germain Katanga [case materials; JURIST news archive] must be allowed to remain in the Netherlands to seek asylum. The three unnamed witnesses were originally awaiting trial as prisoners in the Democratic Republic of Congo [BBC backgrounder], but were transferred to the ICC's detention center in The Hague in May 2011. Since the ICC had originally intended to keep the three in detention and return them to prison after their testimonies, Dutch authorities initially believed that the witnesses were ineligible for asylum in the Netherlands. However, because the three had filed asylum applications [AFP report], the Dutch judges declared that they must be allowed to stay, and that the state must inform the ICC that it can take over custody of the witnesses within four weeks of the judgement. Legal experts surmise that the judgment may complicate matters for future asylum cases involving witnesses brought to The Hague solely for testimonial purposes, namely that countries may be unwilling to hand over their prisoners if they are allowed to seek asylum in the Netherlands.

Kantanga's case in the ICC has been ongoing for over five years. In July 2010 the court's Appeals Chamber denied his request [JURIST report] for stay of proceedings and declaration of unlawful detention by Congo before his transfer to The Hague. Kantanga originally pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] in November 2009 to three crimes against humanity and seven war crimes, including murder, sexual slavery, pillage and the use of child soldiers. In September 2009 the Appeals Chamber upheld the admissibility [JURIST report] of Kantanga's case after he argued that the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against him should be dropped because he was being charged for the same crimes in the the Congo, thus violating the ICC principle of complementarity. The Appeals Chamber upheld the trial chamber's June 2009 dismissal of Katanga's challenge on the grounds that the there were no domestic proceedings against him at the time the charges were filed, and that subsequent investigations did not result in domestic charges. The trial chamber confirmed the charges [JURIST report] against him in September 2008. Kantanga, the former commander in the Front for Patriotic Resistance of Ituri [IRIN backgrounder], surrendered to the ICC and was transferred to The Hague in October 2007 after a warrant [text, PDF, in French] was issued for his arrest in July 2007.

 

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