In Benin, “the law is handled in such a way that it becomes the enemy of the rule of law”

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Beninese President Patrice Talon at Charles-de-Gaulle Stadium in Porto-Novo, May 23, 2021.

Tribune. Ten years and twenty years in prison! These are the sentences to which the constitutional law professor Joël Aïvo and the former Keeper of the Seals Reckya Madougou were sentenced in Benin on December 6 and 10. Inflicted by the exceptional jurisdiction of the Court for the Repression of Economic Offenses and Terrorism (CRIET), created in 2018 with the aim of silencing and eliminating any political opposition to the omnipotence of President Patrice Talon, these penalties constitute the last manifestation of a descent into authoritarian hell in Benin.

This catastrophe is all the more dramatic as this country had inaugurated an exceptional democratic era thanks to the consensual mode of adoption of the Constitution of December 11, 1990. Since then, thanks to responsible political actors and independent counter-powers – to the Like the Constitutional Court chaired by outstanding jurists such as Robert Dossou or Theodore Holo – the former Dahomey had become a democratic gem, praised and admired throughout West Africa and beyond. The arrival to power of businessman Patrice Talon in 2016, however, marked the beginning of an indisputable “Democratic deconsolidation”, to use the expression of political scientists Yasha Mounk and Stéphane Foa. Like what is happening in many states around the world, the law is handled in such a way that it becomes the enemy of the rule of law.

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In Benin, the rules of the democratic game were changed overnight: in 2019, a new Constitution was adopted, without respecting the rules of revision laid down by the Constitution of 1990 such as those of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and governance. Other types of manipulation affected electoral legislation and the exercise of judicial power. In the end, everything was meticulously and very cleverly organized so that the control of the Beninese executive was total over all the constituted powers.

Machiavellian process

The attack on the independence of the judiciary is a contemporary mark of illiberal times. Strong men, once elected, deconstruct the principle of the separation of powers in order to better maintain themselves at the head of the State. Benin is no exception to this process which bears witness to an authoritarian turn around the world, at work in Poland or Hungary, for example.

In addition to a constitutional court under orders – its current president Joseph Djogbenou, who orchestrated the disputed constitutional reform, happens to be the president’s former lawyer as well as his former Keeper of the Seals -, CRIET, through its decisions , has become the emblem of muzzled justice.

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Before the convictions of Joël Aïvo and Reckya Madougou, other political opponents suffered the same fate, with one difference, however: they were able to escape imprisonment and are now all in exile. Before the Beninese government denounced in 2020 the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the latter had perfectly highlighted all the dysfunctions of justice in Benin. Just read the cases of Lionel Zinsou, Sébastien Ajavon, Valentin Djénontin, Komi Koutchéall examined by the pan-African jurisdiction of human rights – to take stock of the relentless and Machiavellian process of undermining the independence of the judiciary.

Laurence Burgorgue-Larsen is professor of public law at the Sorbonne Law School (Paris 1) and director of the master’s 2 “human rights and the European Union” at the Sorbonne Institute for Research in International and European Law (Iredies) .

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In Benin, “the law is handled in such a way that it becomes the enemy of the rule of law”