On 9 June 2011 the International Criminal Court found that witnesses in the Katanga case have the right to seek asylum and that their Dutch counsel Göran Sluiter and Flip Schüller must have access to them. The witnesses have testified in the case against Katanga, from the Democratic Republic of Congo. In their statements they have said that Congolese President Kabila was involved in gross scale human rights violations. The witnesses fear for persecution and human rights violations upon return to Congo and therefore have applied for asylum in the Netherlands.

The witnesses formally applied for asylum on 12 May 2011 with the Dutch immigration authorities, but the application was not processed awaiting a decision from the ICC. The Dutch immigration authorities decided on 1 June 2011 that the views of the ICC would be decisive in respect of the question whether the asylum application will be processed. The ICC had never given any views on this matter.

Göran Sluiter and Flip Schüller are very happy with the recent developments: “We are very pleased that the ICC gives priority to the rights of witnesses in this complex situation. The Court confirms for the first time that in case witnesses fear persecution in their country of origin the Netherlands should be given the opportunity to respond to the asylum application; pending the asylum procedure the applicants should not be sent back to their country of origin. It is now to the Dutch authorities to respond and it should assist the ICC in finding a definitive solution.”

In light of this position of the ICC, the witnesses will not be sent back to Congo. They can await the outcome of their asylum procedure in the Netherlands. The asylum application must now be dealt with on its merits.

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