The Hague: Three Congolese witnesses formerly detained by the International Criminal Court has been returned to Kinshasa after failed asylum bids in the Netherlands, their lawyer said on Monday.
"They were sent back yesterday (Sunday)," Goran Sluiter told AFP, after spending the last month in a Dutch detention centre following their release by the ICC on June 4.
Floribert Ndjabu, Pierre Celestin Mbodina and Sharif Manda Ndadza applied for asylum after testifying in 2011 in the cases of former Congolese militia bosses Mathieu Ngudjolo and Germain Katanga.
The three who were already behind bars in the Congo prior to their transfer to The Hague said they feared for their lives if sent back after implicating current Congolese President Joseph Kabila in crimes.
The ICC`s Appeals Chamber in January ordered the three be sent back after receiving guarantees from Kinshasa about their safety.
This included a guarantee that they would not face the death penalty.
Rights groups including Amnesty International, who last month called on the Netherlands not to sent them back, voiced grave concerns about their safety.
The Dutch decision to deny asylum "may put these individuals at risk of serious human rights violations if returned," Amnesty said.
"It is very much the Dutch government`s responsibility to ensure that the assurances they were given are followed up," Amnesty spokeswoman Nicole Sprokel told AFP.
"It is disappointing that the Dutch government took the risk of being complicit in possible human rights violations faced by the three witnesses in their country," added Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
The Dutch government was not immediately available for comment.
Sluiter however told AFP he was "deeply disappointed by the decision."
"So far we`ve heard no news that they`ve arrived there safely."
The three men had previously been in a Kinshasa prison pending trial for alleged war crimes and were transferred to the ICC`s Hague-based detention unit in 2011.
Ngudjolo and Katanga were accused of being involved in a massacre at a village in the country`s restive northeastern Ituri region in early 2003.
In December 2012, Ngudjolo was acquitted of war crimes after judges said prosecutors failed to prove his commanding role in the attack on Bogoro village.
Katanga, whose case had since been separated from Ngudjolo`s, was sentenced to 12 years in May for arming the ethnic militia that carried out the attack.