Femi Falana, the lead counsel representing Alex Saab in the human rights case before the ECOWAS Court of Justice has described as baseless the claims by Cape Verde that the plaintiff does not have a diplomatic status.
At the last court sitting on Friday, February 5, 2021, Mr. Falana argued that the Mr. Saab’s diplomatic status was not in doubt as even at the time of his arrest in Cape Verde in June 2020, he was on a diplomatic mission to Iran as a Special Envoy of Venezuela.
He said, Mr. Saab’s status demanded that he enjoys diplomatic immunity and inviolability which should protect him from any form of imprisonment or legal proceedings from Cape Verde, but the island country violated that and arrested him on the orders of the US.
Mr. Falana added that Saab’s diplomatic status was reinforced in December 2020 when he was appointed as the Alternate Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the African Union (AU), an appointment that has not been challenged and duly accepted by the AU.
“No objections have been raised to Mr Saab’s appointment by the African Union. It is not a matter for Cape Verde or any other country for that matter to raise issue with whom Venezuela as a sovereign state appoints as its ambassador. Equally, it is for Iran to determine if it recognizes Mr Saab as a Special Envoy to Iran and not any third party,” Mr. Falana argued.
Dr Henrique Borges, lead lawyer for the government of Cape Verde insisted that there was no evidence to prove Alex Saab’s diplomatic status hence the actions taken by the government were justified.
He further questioned the jurisdiction of the ECOWAS court in adjudicating the matter, indicating that Cape Verde has not signed or bound itself by the additional protocols of ECOWAS.
But Femi Falana said that the argument is flawed because the ECOWAS Court had already ruled that it had jurisdiction.
“Under the provisions of the Additional Protocol 2005, if 9 States Members sign it, it becomes binding for all the States Members of ECOWAS. In this case, 14 out of 15 member states signed with the only one not signing was Cape Verde and that was only because its Prime Minister at the time had to return to Cape Verde to deal with an emergency… Cape Verde has not at any time since, expressed any discomfort with the protocols, at the material time [they] fully participated in the discussions to agree the protocols,” Falana stressed.
Alex Saab, a businessman and Venezuelan diplomat is in court to fight alleged human rights abuses meted out to him by the government of Cape Verde.
The ECOWAS court had earlier ruled that Cape Verde releases Mr. Saab from prison custody and kept under permanent house arrest until a final determination is made on a request for his extradition to the US but the island country did not comply with the ruling until recently, although his lawyers say the conditions under which he is being kept is inhumane.
Meanwhile, the ECOWAS court has adjourned sitting to March 11, 2021, when a final determination is expected to be given.