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Criminal charges necessary in Equatorial Guinea executions

Romana St. Matthew-Daniel [Press Secretary, International Bar Association Human Rights Institute]: "In its 2003 report on the administration of justice in Equatorial Guinea (Equatorial Guinea: At the Crossroads [PDF]) the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) uncovered little respect for the rule of law and separation of powers, torture, failure of proper trial processes and lack of an independent judiciary. It is disheartening to see that in the ensuing seven years little appears to have changed.

Thus, the IBAHRI is gravely concerned about the news from Equatorial Guinea of the execution of four alleged coup plotters just an hour after they were sentenced. By denying them leave to appeal, the military tribunal violated a human right enshrined in Article 14(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: 'Everyone convicted of a crime shall have the right to his conviction and sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal according to law.' As a party to the ICCPR, Equatorial Guinea has therefore put itself in breach of its obligations under international law.

The IBAHRI is also concerned by reports that the executed people were subjected to torture whilst held at Black Beach prison after their abduction. Torture is universally regarded as a violation of international law. It is condemned by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment [PDF], a treaty to which Equatorial Guinea acceded on 8 Oct 2002. This practice must stop and those responsible for ordering these crimes punished for Equatorial Guinea to achieve concord with international law.

The IBAHRI notes that the abduction of the four from Benin in January 2010 violates the sovereignty of Benin. The forerunner of the International Criminal Court, the Permanent Court of International Justice, set forth a basic rule: 'the first and foremost restriction imposed by international law upon a State is that - failing the existence of a permissive rule to the contrary - it may not exercise its power in any form in the territory of another State.' (Case of the S.S. "Lotus" (France v. Turkey), P.C.I.J. Series A, No. 10, at p. 18) Agents of one State who abduct someone in another State are exercising State power. There is no general rule of international law permitting that kind of State power in the territory of another State. Benin did not consent to the exercise of such power.

In the view of the IBAHRI, confessions or evidence obtained under torture, denial of right to appeal a conviction, and abduction without extradition all constitute serious violations of the human rights of persons subjected to criminal proceedings, which are if anything more exacting when applied in capital cases.

The executions put Equatorial Guinea at odds with current legal standards and guidelines on the death penalty, including but not limited to the right to life guaranteed by Article 3 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 6 of the ICCPR, and UN General Assembly Resolutions 62/149 (2007) [PDF] and 63/168 (2008) that call for a moratorium on the death penalty. On 15 May 2008, the Council of the IBAHRI passed a Resolution calling for an end to the death penalty worldwide. The Resolution commits the IBAHRI to actively promote the abolition of the death penalty and to recommend that all states take immediate steps towards imposing a moratorium on capital punishment in the interim. The IBAHRI urges Equatorial Guinea to address its responsibilities to uphold the right to life, and in so doing, readdress its use of the death penalty."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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