Legal experts: Cape Verde violating international law in Alex Saab case

Cape Verde

Pressure is mounting on Cape Verde to release Mr  Alex Saab, the Venezuelan diplomat who was arrested in the country.

Photo credit: File

Cape Verde’s continued violation of international laws in the detained Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab court case is tainting the reputation of the country, senior legal experts have warned.

The laws under violation by the West African nation include rules of international diplomacy, principles of diplomatic immunity, human rights and constitutional norms. 

 Experts like lead counsel for Ecowas, Femi Falana, US-based lead counsel at Baker and Hostetler David Rivkin, Cape Verdean counsel Jose Manuel Pinto Monteiro and former Interpol General Counsel and Director of Legal Affairs Dr Rutsel Silvestre Martha, have said the entire litigation process has been erroneous.

Mr Saab was arrested and detained in Cape Verde since June 12, 2020 de-spite a ruling by the Ecowas Court of Justice on March 15, 2021 which declared that the envoy’s arrest and detention were arbitrary and ordered his immediate release. Cape Verde did not obey the ruling.

Money laundering

A Geneva prosecutor closed a three-year investigation into money laundering and ordered the compensation for damages in late 2020.

Mr Saab’s lead counsel in Cape Verde, Dr Monteiro said the United States law requires that for the “rule of specialty” to be binding on the United States, “it has to be explicitly featured in the relevant bilateral extradition treaty; no such treaty exists between the United States and Cape Verde.”

Dr Monteiro adds that the US’s alleged dependence on the United Nations Convention on Transnational Crime (UNCTOC) as being the treaty-basis for the extradition of Mr Saab does not work, since the extradition provisions of the UNCTOC did not feature the specialty clause.

 “However, what is even more rhetorically compelling is that the US has notified the United Nations that it will not apply the UNCTOC’s extradition provision. Hence, it is disingenuous at best and a flat out lie at worst, for anybody to pretend that UNCTOC can be the basis for the imposition of the rule of specialty.”

Mr Falana, Alex Saab’s lead Ecowas Counsel, said that the case of the arbitrary detention in Cape Verde of his client is far from an ordinary case of detention or human rights violations.

“This case is emblematic of a series of flagrant and systematic violations of international norms and has been, from the beginning, punctuated by errors, violations, and challenges to all legal rationality,” he noted.

Mr Saab’s defense team has filed complaints with the Ecowas Court of Justice, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and made serious legal and diplomatic efforts to try to “put an end to this totally unjust and illegal situation, which is keeping a Venezuelan diplomat on a special mission in arbitrary detention under undignified conditions.”


Mr Falana highlighted that Mr Saab’s lawyers had obtained common sense decisions from international bodies, ordering the immediate release of Mr Saab from the Ecowas Court of Justice, and requesting the suspension of the extradition procedure in accordance with the interim measures of the Human Rights Committee, along with calls for diplomatic dialogue from both the United Nations and the African Union.

“But the government of Cape Verde remains deaf to all appeals to reason, to all appeals to comply with the law, and to all appeals to dialogue,” Mr Falana said.

The Venezuelan diplomat has been detained for more than 400 days. He remains at risk of extradition for political reasons. Dr Rutsel Martha, former Head of Legal Affairs of Interpol addressed the question of irregularities within the Interpol notice on the days of June 12-13 2020.

 Dual nationality

The lawyer also responded to the question of dual nationality of the diplomat representing the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as a Special Envoy undertaking humanitarian missions.

Dr Martha said that the US, the Interpol and the Cabo Verdean authorities failed to note that the arrest warrant underlying the Red Notice was issued against a different person.

This means that the arrest and detention of Mr Saab on 12 June 2020 was unlawful.

“The fact that the US attempted in March 2021 to correct this mistake does not distract from the fact that Mr Saab’s detention is wrongful. His continued detention is a reflection of Cape Verde’s disdain towards human rights and the rule of law,” Dr Martha argued.

Addressing questions about the US law, David Rivkin, Mr Saab’s lead US Counsel with Baker and Hostetler, said his client’s entitlement to full diplomatic immunity and inviolability to any coercive measures, “is based upon Article 29 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations - to which the US is a party - Section 254d of the United States’ Diplomatic Relations Act, as well as long-established norms of customary international law and longstanding US practice.”

In a separate statement, Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzon Real, Head of the International Defense Team said that “Alex Saab cannot be extradited be-cause the US simply has no criminal evidence”

He also commented, in remarks which concurred with the views of Femi Falana that Cape Verde and the Constitutional Court are at a crossroads.

“If they agree to extradite, then it can only be on the basis of politically expediency, as this is the one common theme which has run through the entire extradition process. It will be a decision which will shame the Cape Verdean people and all those who need to believe that there is a world order established and protected by the International Law of Human Rights,” Mr Garzon warned.

Mr Saad’s case remains emblematic of the failure of the rule of law, but more notably, an indelible stain on the international reputation of Cape Verde.


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