Gabon faces ‘torture’ case over post-poll violence
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