Incarcerated without trial in Kinshasa, Pierre Mbodina, Floribert Njabu and Charif Banda came to The Hague in March 2011 to testify in favour of accused Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo, who are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
After testifying that the DRC government was to blame for atrocities in Ituri, the witnesses claimed asylum in The Netherlands. They argued that they would be subject to grave human rights abuses, and possibly killed, if they were returned to the DRC.
Their lawyers now contend that the witnesses have been detained there for nearly one year without knowing the legal basis of their detention or in whose custody they are being held.
"After having been detained for around four years in the DRC without a valid judicial warrant, the witnesses respectfully would like to question the legality of their ongoing detention for almost a year at the ICC", defence counsel Ghislain Mabanga wrote.
On December 28, a Dutch court ruled that the witnesses had the right to have access to the Dutch asylum procedure under Dutch immigration law. "This confirmation of jurisdiction in the asylum cases - fully rejecting the position of the Dutch State - constitutes a new fact which may also have consequences for the witnesses' ongoing detention", Mabanga noted.
The Dutch court ordered the government authorities to make a decision on the asylum applications by June 28, 2012.
© Hirondelle News Agency