2 Dec 2010

Democratic Republic of the Congo violated international covenants: ICJ

In its recent decision (Republic of Guinea v. Democratic Republic of the Congo - Case concerning Ahmadou Sadio Diallo) the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has declared that the Democratic Republic of Congo violated various provisions of international covenants by unfairly arresting a citizen of the Republic of Guinea. The Court "concluded that the Democratic Republic of the Congo has breached its obligations under Articles 9 and 13 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 6 and 12 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Article 36, paragraph 1 (b), of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations" by such act and declared that reparations were required to be made by Congo to an extent which would "wipe out all the consequences of the illegal act and reestablish the situation which would, in all probability, have existed if that act had not been committed".

The matter came up before the Court "in respect of a dispute concerning serious violations of international law alleged to have been committed upon the person of a Guinean national" by the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was alleged that "Mr. Ahmadou Sadio Diallo, a businessman of Guinean nationality, was unjustly imprisoned by the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, after being resident in that State for thirty-two (32) years, despoiled of his sizable investments, businesses, movable and immovable property and bank  accounts, and then expelled." It was alleged that this expulsion came at a time when Mr. Ahmadou Sadio Diallo was pursuing recovery of substantial debts owed to his businesses by the State and by oil companies established in its territory and of which the State is a shareholder. Mr. Diallo’s arrest, detention and expulsion constituted, inter alia, according to Guinea, violations of “the principle that aliens should be treated in accordance with ‘a minimum standard of civilization’, [of] the obligation to respect the freedom and property of aliens, [and of] the right of aliens accused of an offence to a fair trial on adversarial principles by an impartial court."

The ICJ inter alia observed as under;
74. Furthermore, the Court considers that Guinea is justified in contending that the right afforded by Article 13 to an alien who is subject to an expulsion measure to “submit the reasons against his expulsion and to have his case reviewed by . . . the competent authority” was not respected in the case of Mr. Diallo. It is indeed certain that, neither before the expulsion decree was signed on 31 October 1995, nor subsequently but before the said decree was implemented on 31 January 1996, was Mr. Diallo allowed to submit his defence to a competent authority in order to have his arguments taken into consideration and a decision made on the appropriate response to be given to them. It is true, as the DRC has pointed out, that Article 13 of the Covenant provides for an exception to the right of an alien to submit his reasons where “compelling reasons of national security” require otherwise. The Respondent maintains that this was precisely the case here. However, it has not provided the Court with any tangible information that might establish the existence of such “compelling reasons”. In principle, it is doubtless for the national authorities to consider the reasons of public order that may justify the adoption of one  police measure or another. But when this involves setting aside an important procedural guarantee provided for by an international treaty, it cannot simply be left in the hands of the State in question to determine the circumstances which, exceptionally, allow that guarantee to be set aside. It is for the State to demonstrate that the “compelling reasons” required by the Covenant existed, or at the very least could reasonably have been concluded to have existed, taking account of the circumstances which surrounded the expulsion measure. In the present case, no such demonstration has been provided by the Respondent. On these grounds too, the Court concludes that Article 13 of the Covenant was violated in respect of the circumstances in which Mr. Diallo was expelled.


82. However, account should be taken here of the number and seriousness of the irregularities tainting Mr. Diallo’s detentions. As noted above, he was held for a particularly long time and it would appear that the authorities made no attempt to ascertain whether his detention was necessary. Moreover, the Court can but find not only that the decree itself was not reasoned in a sufficiently precise way, as was pointed out above (see paragraph 70), but that throughout the proceedings, the DRC has never been able to provide grounds which might constitute a convincing basis for Mr. Diallo’s expulsion. Allegations of “corruption” and other offences have been made against Mr. Diallo, but no concrete evidence has been presented to the Court to support these claims. These accusations did not give rise to any proceedings before the courts or, a fortiori, to any conviction. Furthermore, it is difficult not to discern a link between Mr. Diallo’s expulsion and the fact that he had attempted to recover debts which he believed were owed to his companies by, amongst others, the Zairean State or companies in which the State holds a substantial portion of the capital, bringing cases for this purpose before the civil courts. Under these circumstances, the arrest and detention aimed at allowing such an expulsion measure, one without any defensible basis, to be effected can only be characterized as arbitrary within the meaning of Article 9, paragraph 1, of the Covenant and Article 6 of the African Charter.
84. On the other hand, Guinea is justified in arguing that Mr. Diallo’s right to be “informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest” — a right guaranteed in all cases, irrespective of the grounds for the arrest — was breached. The DRC has failed to produce a single document or any other form of evidence to prove that Mr. Diallo was notified of the expulsion decree at the time of his arrest on 5 November 1995, or that he was in some way informed, at that time, of the reason for his arrest. Although the expulsion decree itself did not give specific reasons, as pointed out above (see paragraph 72), the notification of this decree at the time of Mr. Diallo’s arrest would have informed him sufficiently of the reasons for that arrest for the purposes of Article 9, paragraph 2, since it would have indicated to Mr. Diallo that he had been arrested for the purpose of an expulsion procedure and would have allowed him, if necessary, to take the appropriate steps to challenge the lawfulness of the decree. However, no information of this kind was provided to him; the DRC, which should be in a position to prove the date on which Mr. Diallo was notified of the decree, has presented no evidence to that effect.
95. The Court notes that the two arguments put forward by the DRC before the second round of oral pleadings lack any relevance. It is for the authorities of the State which proceeded with the arrest to inform on their own initiative the arrested person of his right to ask for his consulate to be notified; the fact that the person did not make such a request not only fails to justify non-compliance with the obligation to inform which is incumbent on the arresting State, but could also be explained in some cases precisely by the fact that the person had not been informed of  his rights in that respect (Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America), Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 2004 (I), p. 46, para. 76). Moreover, the fact that the consular authorities of the national State of the arrested person have learned of the arrest through other channels does not remove any violation that may have been committed of the obligation to inform that person of his rights “without delay”.

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