A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, has described the detention of a Venezuelan diplomat, Alex Saab, in Cape Verde as illegal.
Saab has been embroiled in a power tussle between the United States of America and Venezuela.
He was ordered by the Cape Verde appeal court recently to be placed on house arrest having spent seven months in detention since his arrest in June 2020.
But during the hearing of the case before the ECOWAS court on Friday, Falana, counsel to Saab, argued that his client enjoys diplomatic immunity and inviolability and should not be detained by Cape Verde.
"When detained, Alex Saab was engaged in a humanitarian Special Mission to Iran. He had and continues to have, a Special Envoy of Venezuela's status. He, therefore, enjoys diplomatic immunity and inviolability. Therefore, not only can he not be subjected to imprisonment and legal proceedings by Cape Verde, but such actions also violate customary international law," he said.
He added, "The reality is that Cape Verde has only partially grudgingly complied and the conditions of Mr Saab's so-called house arrest are well short of accepted international standards and even below those Cape Verde itself has offered to drug traffickers in the past."
Cape Verde representative, Henrique Borges, countered Saab's diplomatic status.
He said: "Cape Verde does not recognize the authority of the ECOWAS Court to decide this case as it has not signed and, consequently, not bound by the additional protocols of ECOWAS. This is not only a contradictory position but laughable.
"On the one hand, the court has already ruled on December 2 that it has jurisdiction in this matter and yet here we are on February 5, and Cape Verde is making a submission to a court whose jurisdiction over it allegedly does not recognize. There is no sign that Alex Saab has diplomatic status."
Reacting, Falana argued that "Cape Verde cannot claim that Alex Saab is not a diplomat as he is a Special Envoy to Iran and recognized in that role by Iran."
According to him, the African Union has accepted his appointment. Therefore his immunity and inviolability are absolute and cannot be challenged by Cape Verde.
Falana said, "Cape Verde has to comply with the ECOWAS ruling in accordance with the Revised Treaty (Article 15) besides the additional protocols.
"Under the provisions of the Additional Protocol 2005, if nine member states sign it, it becomes binding on all the State Members of ECOWAS. In this case, 14 out of 15 member states signed and only Cape Verde didn't sign, and that is only because its prime minister had to return to the country to deal with an emergency.
"Cape Verde has not, at any time, expressed any discomfort with the protocols; it fully participated in the discussions to agree on the protocols and, importantly, has one of its jurists appointed as a member of the ECOWAS Panel of Judges. Its current Chief Justice is a member of the Committee of Chief Justices of the ECOWAS Court. A current serving member of the Cape Verde Supreme Court was previously a member of the ECOWAS Court. Once again, by its conduct, Cape Verde can be seen to have accepted the jurisdiction of the ECOWAS Court."