Veteran Nigerian Lawyer Asks ICC to Open Investigation Against Jammeh Government
One of Nigeria’s most prominent human rights lawyers Wednesday called on the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda to “immediately open an investigation into the allegations of international crimes committed by the government of former president Yahya Jammeh.”
Femi Falana, a former president of the West Africa Bar Association, was the lawyer for disappeared Gambian journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh and tortured journalist Musa Saidykhan, whose cases he won against the Gambian government at the Ecowas Court in Abuja during the regime of Jammeh.
Addressing a meeting organised by the African Network on International Criminal Justice in Dakar, Falana frowned at the ICC for its alleged failure to intervene in The Gambia.
“If the ICC wants to be relevant in Africa it cannot continue to pick and choose the cases to investigate and prosecute,” he said. “For instance, the Prosecutor of the ICC issued warnings and threatened to prosecute politicians linked with political violence during the 2015 general election in Nigeria. But no such warning was ever issued when former President Yahya Jammeh annulled a credible presidential election held in The Gambia in 2016.”
Falana praised Ecowas for its role in ending the Gambia’s political, and urged the ICC to probe the allegations of abuses against the Jammeh regime.
“Happily, the Economic Community of West African States intervened decisively and prevented the break out of a civil war in the country. As the ICC cannot continue to turn a blind eye to atrocities committed by the regime of former president Yahya Jammeh of Gambia the Prosecutor should open an investigation into them under the Rome Statute without any further delay.”
The Nigerian lawyer also accused the ICC of selective justice and witch hunting African leaders.
“To the extent that the ICC has failed to try the heads of governments of some powerful states responsible for the unprecedented crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria the allegation of selective prosecution of African leaders cannot be dismissed lightly. But the failure of the ICC to prosecute such well known highly placed criminal suspects should not be a justification for preventing the arrest and trial of other perpetrators of crimes against humanity and genocide.”
He added: “As far as Africa is concerned the ICC cannot be absolved of the allegations of selective prosecution. In fact, the case of former President Laurent Gbagbo (of Ivory Coast) has gone from selective prosecution to selective persecution. Whereas he was discharged and acquitted in February 2019 the ICC has ordered him to be incarcerated in Belgium pending when the Prosecutor would file a fresh charge against him. But since the ICC has no power to order a defendant that has been tried, discharged and acquitted it ought to quash the detention of Mr. Gbagbo forthwith.”
Falana however warned that as long as the governments in Africa continue to pay lip service to the fight against impunity, the victims of egregious human rights infringements will not hesitate to seek redress in available human rights mechanisms with a view to bringing perpetrators to book.
“If the AU does not want Africans accused of violations of international law to be tried outside the continent and outside domestic jurisdictions, it has to show strong political will to combat impunity and ensure justice for victims. Refusal to comply with court orders admitting criminal suspects to bail or ordering the release of detainees is an invitation to anarchy. The manipulation of constitutions for tenure elongation is also an invitation to political instability.”
Last month, the Gambia Press Union gave Falana a Champion of Press Freedom award for his role in defending Gambian journalists at the Ecowas Court in Abuja and for defending freedom of the press across West Africa.