Congo war crime witnesses deported despite AI warnings

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Three Congolese witnesses of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague were deported out of the Netherlands on Sunday, despite concerns Amnesty International (AI) had raised about their safety.

The three Congolese nationals - Floribert Ndjabu Ngabu, Sharif Manda Ndadza Dz’Na, and Pierre-Célestin Mbodina Iribi - were returned to Kinshasa on Sunday after Dutch authorities rejected their request for asylum. They had been called to The Hague in 2011 as witnesses in the ICC prosecution of former Congolese militia leader They are expected to be taken into custody on their arrival in Kinshasa, having been held in prison in the DRC prior to their transfer to The Hague in connection with allegations of crimes under international law. AI had protested against their return and charged that it was on the Netherlands’ conscience should they be executed upon their arrival in the DRC. The human rights watchdog said that the men claim that they are at risk of persecution and reprisals from the DRC authorities if sent back, having publicly made allegations that the President of the DRC has been involved in serious crimes. “Amnesty International believes that the detained witnesses have a reasonable fear that they will be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment in DRC prisons; that they will face flagrant violations of the right to a fair trial and that they may face the death penalty,” the organization stated. It said that the three men will be judged by military courts, which are often subjected to political pressure and interference; “their rights to a fair trial are at risk of being violated and they are at a high risk of torture or other ill-treatment, which is often committed in detention facilities in the DRC.” AI said its research indicates that the justice system in the DRC is not sufficiently robust to protect the men’s rights. It said the Dutch Government was wrong in accepting assurances from the DRC about their safety. “The Dutch court’s decision places an unjustifiable weight on the DRC government’s promised protective measures and other assurances to the ICC. We are deeply concerned that the Netherlands accepted assurances given not to itself but to a third party and without allowing the three witnesses to present evidence to challenge these assurances,” AI said. It said the Netherlands is not a party to the assurances and will have no way to supervise them and to ensure that they are implemented. Human Rights Watch had on Friday also written an appeal to State Secretary Fred Teeven of Justice not to deport the men.