Due to the continued imprisonment of two prominent opposition leaders, the Brussels-based organisation Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) has filed a report with the United Nations ‘Universal Periodic Review’ (UPR) for Benin, voicing concerns about human rights abuses in the country.
The report focuses on the situation of two opposition figures Reckya Madougou and Joël Aivo, respectively sentenced to 20 years and 10 years in prison and 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).
The UPR is a process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. It aims to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur.
The submission by HRWF to the UN’s UPR for Benin included details about the case of Reckya Madougou who was sentenced at the end of 2021 to 20 years in prison for allegedly financing terrorism. She had been arrested in March 2021 accused of wiring thousands of dollars toa military officer for the purpose of killing unnamed authorities.
Her candidacy had earlier been rejected by the electoral commission. Ms Madougou was the leader of the opposition party, Les Démocrates, and a presidential candidate. Her civil society campaign — “Don’t touch my constitution” — rallied against leaders seeking to extend their rule under the guise of constitutional reform.
The report also gave details about the case of Joël Aivo and his December 2021 sentencing by the Economic Crime and Terrorism Court (CRIET) to 10 years in prison for allegedly plotting against the state and laundering money. Mr Aivo is a law professor who challenged Talon in the April 2021 presidential election.
He was held for eight months ahead of sentencing and pleaded not guilty to the aforementioned charges. He contracted COVID-19 while in prison due to being confined in a cell with 38 other inmates.
Willy Fautré, Director and Co-Founder of HRWF, commented: “Our organisation has been monitoring the backsliding that has been taking place around human rights in Benin since 2016. We were especially dismayed to see that Reckya Madougou and Joël Aivo were not on the June 2022 list of 17 detainees to be temporarily released. Ms Madougou and Mr Aivo should be fully released immediately. The persecution and detention of opposition figures has no place in a democracy and we are concerned for the welfare of these two politicians.”
Rogatien Biaou, Benin’s former Foreign Minister and President of the Alliance Patriotique Nouvel Espoir (New Hope Patriotic Alliance), an opposition party in Benin, welcomed HRWF’s statement to the UPR. “The continued imprisonment of Reckya Madougou and Joël Aivo is completely unjustifiable. It demonstrates President Patrice Talon’s determination to suffocate democracy in Benin. Sadly, the detention of political opponents takes place against the backdrop of President Talon’s demolition of Benin’s other pillars of democracy.”
“Benin has become a country where state violence is used against protestors, the courts are used for political purposes and free speech is under threat. As long as opposition figures are persecuted in the country, no one in Benin can consider themselves free.”Rogatien Biaou, President of the Alliance Patriotique Nouvel Espoir
The HRWF report comes as there is is growing international concern over Benin’s regression in terms of democracy and protecting human rights. The findings of the UPR of Benin are expected to be publicly debated at the UN in January 2023.