By Joe Montero
Most Australians have not heard of Alex Saab. His case has not made headlines here. Most likely reason is that he is the Ambassador to the African Union for Venezuela.
The matter began on 12 June last year. Police, acting on a political direction, forcefully abducted Ambassador from a plane at the Cabo Verde airport and put into solitary confinement.
Alex Saab has remained a captive.
Alex Saab under arrest
Cabo Verde is a small nations in the Atlantic off West Africa. Its economy is small and dependent on money sent back by its people forced by the lack of jobs to go to the United States, fees generated from being a stopover for shipping and flights, tourism, and foreign investment. There is not much more to the economy. This makes it vulnerable to pressure from the United Sates. The Cabo Verde government has complied.
The detention and extradition of Alex Saab are an echo what the government of Great Britain is doing to Julian Assange.
The kidnapping and detention in solitary confinement were political directions and not a matter of law. This has been added to, by denying Alex access to cancer medication and treatment for cancer.
Initially, the United States said it wanted Alex Saab for money laundering. This accusation had no substance and was amended into a charge of being involved in breaking the sanctions imposed on Venezuela. Behind this, is the intention to have him put on trial for treason in the United States.
Saab is not a citizen of the United States. This should render the accusation of being a traitor to that country invalid. But this is about politics not justice.
Saab is accused of carrying out his job as a diplomat, as a representative of his country and involvement in matter of international trade.
Under articles of the Geneva Conventions diplomats have immunity from prosecution. This is being violated.
Washington holds diplomatic personnel appointed by a government not recognised by the United States do not have immunity. Countering this is that the reality on the ground dictates that the United States must deal with the diplomatic service of the effective government of Venezuela. This happens to be the government headed by Nicolas Maduro and its diplomatic service, whatever Washington might think of it.
This contradiction between the politics and reality is a major problem for the United States.
Cabo Verde is a member of the African Union. Its legal system is under the jurisdiction of the West African State Court of Justice. Both have declared the detention illegal. Addition to violating the Geneva Conventions, there was no warrant and Interpol hadn’t been informed at the time of arrest. These came after, and the United States authorities accidentally put the wrong name on the warrant anyway.
The prison where Alex Saab is being held in solitary confinement
The West African State Court of Justice ruled the detention an illegal act. In response, the Cabo Verde government declared that the court’s jurisdiction is not binding. This is developing into a major political crisis for the small nation. The detention is deeply unpopular according to polls and become a major issue in the parliament and legal system.
Several other concerned nations have made clear their opposition to the detention. In this includes China, Russia, and Iran, addition to members of the African Union and Venezuela. The United Nations has declared the case a breach of international law and called for Alex Saab’s release.
Saab’s legal team lodged a case in the Cabo Verde Constitutional Court. It was heard on 13 August this year. the grounds were 12 breeches of the constitution of Cabo Verde and the use of torture. no decision was made on the day. This has postponed to a future date. The matter has created a political storm, which is what has forced the delay.
A second case was lodged by Saab’s legal team in the United Sates Circuit Court, which challenges the legality of the accusation and extradition. This was heard on 24 August.
Lawyers for the United States government succeeded with an application for an adjournment till 7 October.
The delay provides an opportunity to avoid the awkwardness that would be caused by a decision in Cabo Verde going in Alex Saab’s favour. This would most likely blow the circuit Court case for the United Sates government out of the water and cause a major political embarrassment.
Expect further twists and turns as the Saab extradition attempt continues to unfold.
Alex Saab’s case is important as abuse of legal process for a political agenda, and the denial of an individual’s basic rights. Even worse, if it is successful, the extradition will make it easier for governments to kidnap those they consider political opponents.
This is a good reason why it must not be allowed to succeed.
In Australia, the Morrison government has been silent on this, which damages its claim to be a defender of human rights. It needs a bit of pressure to do the right thing and call for the freezing of Alex Saab.
An international petition is circulating, which will be presented to the government of Cabo Verde.