Gabon faces ‘tor­ture’ case over post-poll vi­o­lence

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

PARIS — Lawyers on Wed­nes­day launched a suit in France claim­ing the gov­ern­ment of Gabon com­mit­ted “crimes against hu­man­ity” dur­ing days of vi­o­lence fol­low­ing the cen­tral African coun­try’s dis­puted pres­i­den­tial elec­tion last month.

The suit claims the Libreville gov­ern­ment “plot­ted to carry out ar­bi­trary ar­rests and de­ten­tions . . . tor­ture and bar­barous acts, at­tempted mur­der and crimes against hu­man­ity,” lawyer Wil­liam Bour­don told a Paris news con­fer­ence.

The for­mer French colony was plunged into an un­prece­dented po­lit­i­cal cri­sis after in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Ali Bongo was de­clared the win­ner of the Au­gust 27 elec­tion by just 6 000 votes. Three peo­ple died in post-elec­tion vi­o­lence, ac­cord­ing to the au­thor­i­ties, while the op­po­si­tion puts the death toll at more than 50.

The French lawyers in­voked univer­sal ju­ris­dic­tion, which al­lows states to rule on se­ri­ous crimes re­gard­less of where the wrong­do­ing was com­mit­ted. Two FrenchGabonese dual na­tion­als are the first in­di­vid­u­als to join the ac­tion, charg­ing ar­bi­trary ar­rest and de­ten­tion, the lawyers said.

One is a res­i­dent of France who was ar­rested upon his ar­rival in Libreville on Au­gust 28 and re­mains in prison. The other, who at­tended the news con­fer­ence, was ar­rested overnight on Au­gust 31 at the party head­quar­ters of op­po­si­tion leader Jean Ping.

Re­quest­ing anonymity, he re­counted a night of “hor­ror and car­nage” dur­ing which he said dozens of peo­ple were killed or wounded by masked men car­ry­ing out a “me­thod­i­cal” at­tack at Ping’s head­quar­ters.

Other Franco-Gabonese fam­i­lies are ex­pected to join the ac­tion against Gabon in the com­ing weeks, Bour­don said. The plain­tiffs are con­sid­er­ing tak­ing the case to the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court, the lawyers said.

The ICC may ac­cept the charge of crimes against hu­man­ity “given the lo­gis­tics, prepa­ra­tion (and) pre­med­i­ta­tion against a civil­ian pop­u­la­tion that was to­tally un­armed,” Bour­don said.

“The gen­eral, sys­tem­atic, or­gan­ised na­ture of this mas­sacre, of this tor­ture” was the re­sult of “po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions backed by the po­lit­i­cal-mil­i­tary lead­er­ship” in Gabon, he added.

Or­gan­is­ers of an op­po­si­tion hot­line have said they have re­ceived 21 re­ports of deaths and 19 of miss­ing peo­ple.

The Gabonese gov­ern­ment on Wed­nes­day warned Ping that it would hold him re­spon­si­ble for any new vi­o­lence ahead of Fri­day, when the Con­sti­tu­tional Court is due to rule on Ping’s chal­lenge of the elec­tion re­sult. — AFP

Pres­i­dent Ali Bongo

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