(Amsterdam) – The Netherlands’ State Secretary of Security and Justice should use his discretion to delay the deportation of three International Criminal Court (ICC) witnesses, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to State Secretary Fred Teeven. On June 27, 2014, the highest Dutch court, the State Council, denied the witnesses’ asylum requests and authorized their return to the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo).
The Dutch government, as a strong supporter of international justice and human rights, should press authorities in Congo to take measures to ensure the witnesses’ due process rights will be fully respected if they are returned there.
“The Dutch State Secretary should pull the brake on the deportation of the three ICC witnesses until he can satisfy himself that any prosecution of the witnesses will be fair and credible, in accordance with international standards,” said Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “With a strong risk that the witnesses won’t get a fair trial in Congo, the Dutch government shouldn’t be complicit by sending them back.”
The three men – Floribert Njabu, Sharif Manda, and Pierre-Célestin Mbodina – applied for asylum in the Netherlands in May 2011, when they completed their testimony in a case before the ICC, citing fear for their physical safety and human rights violations if they were returned to Congo. Prior to their transfer to the ICC, all three had been detained for several years in Congo on various charges such as belonging to a rebel movement, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Human Rights Watch emphasized that the Dutch government has strict legal obligations to fully satisfy itself that the three ICC witnesses will not be subject to the death penalty, to torture or denied justice through an unfair trial or arbitrary detention. Human Rights Watch underscored that guarantees given by a government against torture and prohibited ill-treatment are an inadequate safeguard against such treatment and cannot be used to meet a state’s obligations not to send any individual to a place where they face a real risk of torture.
Human Rights Watch also expressed strong concerns that the rights of the three witnesses to due process and a fair trial were at risk of not being upheld in Congo. Further measures should be implemented by the Congolese authorities to ensure a fair trial before the men are returned, Human Rights Watch said.