Throughout the year 2020 a new politico-judicial phenomenon has settled in Francophone Africa, and this, mainly in countries where the transfer of political power has not yet entered into the habits: The confinement of opponent leaders in their own place of residence. From Togo to Cameroon via Gabon, the Ivory Coast and Guinea, the main opponents have paid a price in this unjudicial treatment, to which regimes that are practising it don’t give a name either, and whose victims have no judicial status.
They are not prisoners. In the judicial system, to be considered as such, one must have been the object of a warrant of arrest and sent to prison. They are not in supervised residence either. This is a judicial sentence arising from a court decision in which a judge orders a person to live in a given perimeter, which may be no wider than his/her place of residence, with limited means of communication.
Yet, the political leaders locked in their homes, are not sequestered: in criminal law, confinement without physical violence by a local authority is not sequestration. The opponent personality locked in his/her house thus finds himself/ herself in a lawless situation. Although no official authority formally forbids this, he/she can’t leave a home surrounded by the police. In fact, he/she is really under siege conditions.
Until the 20th century, the treatment reserved to opponent leaders has ranged from imprisonment to assassination, including house arrest duly notified, not forgetting exile and bombing raids on immovables, by tanks and planes. Brutal as these punishment mechanisms could have been, the opponents that were submitted to them had a clearly identified, judicial status: they were “dead for liberty”, political prisoners, assigned to their residence, exiled. Although they were the only ones who communicated – imposing their point of view at national level through the State media and presenting pleas before the international instances to justify their acts – the powers in place have taken precautions to wrap their punishments under the legal coat.
The current regimes are freeing themselves of this minimal precaution and are blithely disrupting justice, as if it was the only way to insure the longevity of power. Indeed, things have changed a lot over the decades.
First, since 1990, political assassinations are no longer an option unless one wishes to attract the wrath of the international community. Moreover, sending to jail a political leader can contribute to forging him a stature as the people’s defender and help increasing his capital of sympathy among the population, and conversely give the regime a disastrous international image, when it is trying to play it down. Finally it is impossible to deny the role of the social networks that have freed the people’s voices in those countries, and who, nowadays, appear as a counterweight to the State media.
Those little arrangements with the justice seem surprising since most African States have ratified international documents meant to guarantee every citizen the right to an equitable Justice. Besides, many countries have enshrined the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in their constitution.
In fact, only Declarations find grace in the eyes of those states because, contrary to Conventions, to Charters and International Treaties, they have no coercion power at all. It is a moral norm and violating it implies no form of punishment so, African countries tend to disengage from international instruments that make them respect their engagements. This has been happening for some time with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The only solution remaining is the enactment of the Rule of Law at national level. In order to avoid arbitrariness, the law must be the same for all: no privileges, no exceptions, All the citizens must be able to know if their acts are legal. And to prevent, in spite of everything, the state from abusing its authority, the separation of powers must be effective. Through a right balance, power must stop power.