Home POLITICS Macron must not turn a blind eye to Benin’s regression on human rights, writes Rogatien Biaou

Macron must not turn a blind eye to Benin’s regression on human rights, writes Rogatien Biaou

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As President Emmanuel Macron arrives in Benin for a visit to Cotenou, he is expected to meet with President Patrice Talon. This is an opportunity for France to express the concern the international community feels over the terrible backsliding that has been seen in Benin since 2016, in terms of democracy and human rights.

Benin was, until recent years, considered a democratic beacon in West Africa, with a stable democracy being built from 1991 onwards, when Mathieu Kérékou was peacefully voted out. We were proud to contribute to the wave of democratisation that occurred in West Africa post-Cold War and to become one of the most stable democracies in sub-Saharan Africa.

Sadly, since 2016, we have witnessed the demolition of that precious democracy. President Talon has been using the justice system to attack his political opponents and new electoral rules and a crackdown on his political rivals allowed him to consolidate his power in 2021.

There has been deadly police violence against protestors and activists have been arrested. Under his regime we have seen the elimination of all possibility of legitimate opposition. He has detained people who post critically about him on Facebook, jailed journalists and closed prominent newspapers and broadcast stations. Many critics point out that of those he prosecutes for “corruption”, most are in the opposition and it is believed the charges are trumped up.

Just this month, the Brussels-based organisation Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) filed a report with the United Nations Universal Periodic Review on Benin.

Reycka Madougou

Reckya Madougou

The report demanded the release of Reckya Madougou and Joël Aivo, respectively sentenced to 20 years and 10 years in prison. HRWF alerted the international community that they were not included in a list of 17 detainees due to be temporarily released after a 13 June 2022 meeting between President Patrice Talon and Thomas Boni Yayi, former President of Benin (2006-2016).

For President Macron to leave Benin without demanding the release of political prisoners Magoudou and Aivo with President Talon would be shameful.

President Talon’s former personal lawyer, Joseph Djogbenou, became president of Benin’s Constitutional Court on 8 June 2018. A former minister of justice, Djogbenou’s specialism is in criminology and he is not considered to be well-versed in constitutional and public law.

Joël Aivo

His very appointment to that role, given he is the personal lawyer of the current president, is alarming and must be seen a manoeuvre by Patrice Talon to bring the institution under his control and to pass laws that are opposed by parliament and the popular will.

There is also grave concern over his new judicial body, known as CRIET, ostensibly created to fight corruption and terrorism, but clearly being abused to target President Talon’s political rivals.

It does not end there. After the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights repeatedly ruled against his administration’s policies, Talon’s government prevented the court from hearing cases brought against him by individuals and non-governmental organisations.

When President Macron speaks with President Talon, he should remember that he is a addressing a man who is entrenching his autocracy in Benin. He should not be under any illusions. Nor should he feel it is acceptable to look the other way. For too long France has had a tendency to side with the incumbent in Africa and beyond, willing to cling to the known entity, the status quo, even when it is clear that a leader is actively working against democratic progression and human rights.

As France improves and evolves its relationships with former colonies, it is essential that those relations be built on foundations of equality, as well as honest and open dialogue. True friends speak the truth. France is not providing genuine support to Benin when it turns a blind eye to the persecution of opposition leaders such as Reckya Madougou and Joël Aivo.

Rogatien Biaou is a Beninese politician and diplomat. He is the President of the Alliance

Patriotique Nouvel Espoir (New Hope Patriotic Alliance), an opposition party in Benin. He is currently campaigning for the release of other members of Benin’s political opposition, who have been imprisoned by President Talon’s regime on politically motivated charges. Rogatien Biaou was the Foreign Minister of Benin from June 12, 2003 to February 16, 2006.

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