Femi Falana (SAN), human rights lawyer and counsel for Alex Saab, special envoy of the Venezuelan government, says the continued detention of his client by the Cape Verdean authorities is illegal.
Saab was arrested on June 12, 2020 after his private jet made a stop over at Cape Verde on his way to Iran for a humanitarian mission on behalf of the Venezuelan government.
The businessman is caught up in a feud between Venezuela, his country, and the US.
The US put pressure on Cape Verde to arrest Saab with plans of extraditing him to face corruption charges.
But Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro who recently appointed Saab as ambassador to the African Union (AU) kicked against the move.
It was on that basis, Falana was instructed to ask the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) court to stop the extradition.
In a verdict, the regional court ordered the immediate release of the envoy from prison and placed him under house arrest for health reasons.
It also ordered that extradition hearing be suspended in Cape Verde pending the hearing and determination of the suit before it in Abuja, Nigeria.
Falana, in a letter addressed to President Joe Biden asked the US government to make it clear to the authorities in Cape Verde the importance of respect for human rights and the rule of law by immediately taking effective steps to enforce the ECOWAS Court judgment.
The lawyer said Saab’s case is a true test case for the Biden’s administration to show that it will never support or encourage the habit of governments simply ignoring court orders.
He said, “Mr. President, I would like to inform you that I am the lead counsel for a Venezuelan diplomat, Alex Saab who continues to be arbitrarily detained by the Republic of Cape Verde since 12 June, 2020 at the request of the United States of America, despite a court judgment ordering his immediate release.
“Mr. President, you have been elected with the aim and hope that the United States will re-assume the political leadership position which it has occupied for many decades until the recent past. In this context, I respectfully ask that as you and your team look around for places to rebuild relationships and in some cases create new bridgeheads, that Africa and the African people feature highly in your roadmap for engagement.
“Mr. President, you have assumed your office with the bold assertion that 'America is back!' Indeed, it is reported that during your recent telephone conversation with the King Salman of Saudi Arabia, you affirmed 'the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law.' Given your track record, I am confident that you would be true to your words, and that especially in the realm of human rights and respect for the rule of law, Africans and Africa’s legal institutions can count on your support.
“In a judgment delivered on March 15, 2021, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (“the ECOWAS Court”) declared the detention of Mr. Saab illegal, ordered his immediate release from custody and the cessation of the extradition process to the United States.
“Mr. Saab’s case is a true test case for your administration to show that it will never support or encourage the habit of governments simply ignoring court orders. In this respect, I urge your administration to make clear to the authorities in Cape Verde the importance of respect for human rights and the rule of law by immediately taking effective steps to enforce the ECOWAS Court judgment, and to release Mr. Saab from arbitrary detention.
“The ECOWAS Court has done its job, reaffirming the independence of the judiciary, and reinforcing the important message of access to justice for victims of human rights violations. Unfortunately, the authorities in Cape Verde are failing to do their job by ignoring the court’s judgment. The United State Government under your watch should not support or encourage the impunity, and the efforts by the authorities in Cape Verde to undermine the integrity and authority of the West African human rights court.
“Allowing or encouraging the authorities in Cape Verde to ignore and disobey the ECOWAS Court judgment would not only undermine judicial independence and the rule of law but also lead to a denial of justice for Mr. Saab, and a perpetration of impunity by Cape Verde. Judicial independence is the bedrock of the rule of law. International standards such as the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary stress that judicial independence is a fundamental requirement in promoting human rights and preserving rule of law.
“The United Nations General Assembly in Resolution 65/213 of 1 April 2011 reaffirmed that an independent and impartial judiciary is essential for the protection of human rights, the rule of law, good governance and democracy.
“I am therefore appealing to your Excellency to use your good offices and leadership to review the decision of the United State Government in this matter for the sake of justice, human rights and the rule of law. I urge you to encourage and prevail on the authorities in Cape Verde to obey the court judgment and to immediately release Mr. Saab on the basis of the judgment by West Africa’s highest human rights court.
“Using your leadership position to promote full compliance with the ECOWAS Court judgment would be entirely consistent with your track record and your expressed commitment to respect human rights and the rule of law. It would also send a powerful message to other African governments that the United States under your leadership would stand up for human rights and the rule of law.
“I would like to respectfully draw your Excellency’s attention to the fact that in addition to the judgment of the ECOWAS Court, the Geneva Public Prosecutor has recently stated that there is no evidence whatsoever with which to prosecute Mr. Saab for the offence of money laundering.
“Having regard to the facts and circumstances of this case, I would like to request the Government of the United States to end the apparent pressure mounted on the authorities in Cape Verde to disobey the judgment of the ECOWAS Court and to extradite Mr. Saab.”