Alex Saab’s detention in Cape Verde: Falana fires letter to Biden

Mr. Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and human rights crusader, has fired a letter, dated 17 May 2021, on behalf of his client, a Venezuelan diplomat, Alex Saab (accused of money laundering) to US President Joseph Biden. He continues to be 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.

Falana reminds Biden in the letter about a judgment delivered on March 15, 2021, when 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.

Falana tells Biden: “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.”

Below is Falana’s full letter:
May 17, 2021
Mr. Joseph R Biden,
President of the United States of America,
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500.
Dear Mr. President,

RE: HUMAN RIGHTS AND RULE OF LAW IN AFRICA

Following my letter of April 6, 2021 on the above subject-matter, I would like to congratulate you again on your election to the highest office in the United States. Yours has been a long and inspirational journey and you have assumed your office at a moment of great uncertainty for the global community. Please accept my best wishes for the next four years.

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 Africas 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. Saabs 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 courts 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 Africas 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.

I am also appealing to your administration to demonstrate its readiness to contribute to the promotion of regional integration in Africa in view of “the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law.”

Finally, while awaiting your positive response to this letter, please accept the assurances of my highest esteem and professional regards.

Yours Sincerely,

FEMI FALANA, SAN