Some years ago, as Secretary General of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity, OATUU, I had diplomatic immunity provided directly by my host, Ghana, my country, Nigeria and the African Union which extended to me the privilege of its diplomatic passport. With the AU passport, I entered and exited countless African countries without visa and with ease. My hubs were Accra, Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Johannesburg.
I travelled so frequently through South Africa that one day, as I transited from Gabs (Gaborone) in a moment of forgetfulness, I walked towards the exit rather than the transit. I had a flight to connect, but it was too late to walk back. I simply sprinted to the diplomatic section, got my passport stamped to enter the country, walked to the departure and got stamped out, all within a some minutes that enabled me catch my flight.
Those are some of the privileges of having a diplomatic passport which also goes with having immunity including from prosecution, even for spying or murder. All a host country can do, is expel the suspect.
All these are contained in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) which provides for the inviolability of mission premises; protection for the diplomat and his or her family from any form of arrest or detention; protection of all forms of diplomatic communication; the basic principle of exemption from taxation; immunity from civil and administrative jurisdiction, but states that diplomats must respect the laws of the host state.
This has worked well for international relations, promoted multilateralism and protected the representative of any country or recognised international institution, from harassment by security agencies and governments of host countries.
It is these basic convention and principles the United States of America, USA, a big single tree that sees itself as constituting a forest, choose to attack in a manner bordering on terrorism.
The USA rested its giant frame on a tiny African country, Cape Verde, threatening to suffocate it unless it violates the Vienna Convention and fundamental human rights by seizing and extraditing to it, Venezuelan Special envoy, Alex Saab who was transiting through it. The American establishment in its avowed mission to ruin Venezuela and starve its people, had unilaterally imposed sanctions on that country forbidding it from buying its basic needs including food, petroleum products and medicines from any part of the world. With Venezuela facing starvation, Saab had undertaken a humanitarian Special Mission to purchase food and medicines from Iran. The Americans claimed that the funds the diplomat was moving from Venezuela to Iran for the basic purchases, amounted to money laundering and ordered hapless Cape Verde to seize him on June 13, 2020 when the aircraft he was travelling in, made a stopover to refuel. Ambassador Saab has been held since then; an hostage of American impunity. This is despite the fact that Switzerland whose UBS Bank America claimed Saab used for the alleged money laundering, had thrown out the case. The Geneva Public Prosecutor had declared that: “…there is no additional element to continue the investigation on the count of Money Laundering…”
Cape Verde was an easy target for the American bullies. It is a tiny territory of 4,033 square kilometres and a 2019 population of 549,935. At independence from Portugal on July 5, 1975, it was part of the larger Guinea Bissau. In fact, it was Cape Verde that produced Amilcar Cabral, one of the most intelligent, resourceful, knowledgeable and committed Black leaders in history. It was Cabral who mobilised and led the armed struggle against colonialism that led to the independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. Today, it is classified as a poor country importing 82 per-cent of its food needs.
So Cape Verde knows the implication of food shortages and would not ordinarily seek to block another country from buying food. But given lack of support or protection from other countries including the AU, and being quite vulnerable, when America told it to jump, it leapt up like a leopard to snatch Saab who apart from having diplomatic immunity, also has his mission covered by the United Nations Special Missions Convention of 1969.
But America, even under President Joe Bidden, who, compared to his predecessor, Donald Trump, looks like an angel, has no respect for international conventions, nor compunction that it is trying to starving 27.95 million Venezuelans. The sin of Venezuela is that it had a radical President Hugo Chavez who stopped oil transnational corporations from exploiting Venezuelan oil and gas, redistributed wealth to the poor and was a friend to Fidel Castro of Cuba whom America saw as mortal enemy. After Chavez passed on March 5, 2013, Venezuelans in the eyes of America compounded their sins by electing a Chavez protégée, Nicholas Maduro to continue the Chavez tradition. More annoying is the fact that Maduro continues to win undisputable elections. America before resorting to starvation as a weapon against Venezuela, tried on January 23, 2013, to impose then Venezuelan Speaker Juan Guaido as the country’s ‘Interim President’ then sent warships in a failed attempt to prevent Iran selling oil to Venezuela.
Ambassdor Saab who is also Venezuela’s Alternate Permanent Representative to the African Union, said while in in detention in Cape Verde: “they tortured me and pressured me to sign a declaration of voluntary extradition and make false statements against my government.” Through the Nigerian international lawyer and former President of the West African Bar Association, Mr Femi Falana, he approached the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS to which Cape Verde belongs, “for the enforcement of his human rights to dignity, liberty, fair hearing and freedom of movement guaranteed by Articles 5, 6, 7 and 12 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights respectively.”
On March 15, 2021, the ECOWAS Court ruled Ambassador Saab’s detention illegal as there was not even an INTERPOL Red Notice nor an arrest warrant before his arrest. It also ordered the extradition process initiated at the request of the USA be terminated immediately. It further ordered Cape Verde to pay him US$200,000 in compensation.
But America refused to let go Cape Verde’s throat, so the choking country has agreed to violate the ECOWAS judicial decision and the conventions of the AU and United Nations by extraditing the hostage to the USA. To show the political nature of the case and further compound its bizarre nature, there is even no bilateral treaty between America and Cape Verde to validate the request for the extradition.
Apart from the USA trying to turn the world on its head and running international relations as a terrorist enterprise, the Alex Saab case shows that America sees Africa as a hostage continent it can water board at will.
Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of African workers, is a human rights activist, journalist and author.