Gabon: Transparency must be guaranteed for the country to emerge from the present political deadlock and for peace to be preserved

Press release
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(Paris - Douala) FIDH, REDHAC and member organisations of the #MyVoteMustCount coalition condemn the post-electoral violence in Gabon following the announcement of Ali Bongo Ondimba’s victory in the presidential election. The violence have led to the death of at least 7 persons and injured many person. From 800 to 1100 persons were arrested by security forces, and are still in detention.

In order to safeguard peace and to put an end to the political deadlock, our organisations call upon all stakeholders in Gabon to show responsibility and restraint. They demand the publication of votes cast in each polling station, and if necessary the recounting of votes, orany other measuresable to safeguard. They urge the international community, and in particular the African Union and the Economic and Monetary Union of Central African Countries (CEMAC) to take immediate steps to support the settlement of the electoral dispute, so that the democratic choice of the electors be respected.

Following the announcement, on 31 August, 2016, by the electoral commission (Cenap) that the outgoing president, Ali Bongo, had been re-elected with 49.80 % of the vote, against 48.23 % for his main opponent, Jean Ping, violence broke out in several neighborhood of the capital, Libreville, and in other parts of the country, in particular in Port Gentil, Lambaréné, Oyem and Bitam.

Political actors in Gabon must call for calm to be restored and must guarantee the transparency of the results of the presidential election. The population’s vote must be respected, and the international community must assist in the process. Variable-interest democracy is no longer acceptable in Africa, or anywhere in the world, declared Dimitris Christopoulos, newly elected FIDH president.

In the middle of the afternoon of Wednesday, 31 August, several hundred people attempted to demonstrate to contest the results proclaimed by the Cenap. At the same time road blocks were improvised in several districts of the capital by unidentified elements, and looting was observed; several buildings were set on fire, including the National Assembly. Considerable forces were deployed in the capital, comprising the Garde républicaine, the army, the Gendarmerie and the antiriot police. Demonstrators were dispersed with tear gas, stun grenades and hot water cannons. Live bullets were also reported to have been fired. During the night of 31 August, Mr Jean Ping’s electoral headquarters were violently raided by the Garde républicaine. For several days Mr Ping had been claiming victory. 26 members of his staff were confined to the premises for 36 hours before being released. After five days of violence and repression, there were many wounded and at least 7 deaths; and according to the Minister of the Interior, from 800 to 1000 persons had been arrested and detained by the police. On September 3, the president of the Gabon Law Society, Mr Jean-Pierre Akumbu M’Oluna, stated that in Libreville alone in 3 days 800 persons had been arrested and detained by the police, and that they were detained in “degrading and unbearable conditions”. Furthermore, according to information obtained by our organisations, several human rights defenders now fear reprisals for having spoken in favour of democratic change.

Political actors in Gabon must immediately measure the importance of what is at stake in the present events, and call for restraint on the part of their respective followers. The authorities, on their part, must release all persons arbitrarily detained, investigate the alleged disproportionate use of force by security forces and ensure the protection of human rights defenders. They must also guarantee the independence and impartiality of the bodies in charge of settling the electoral disputes, declared Maximilienne C. Ngo Mbe, REDHAC Executive Director.

The opposition’s contestation of the results mainly focuses on the narrow margin between votes for Ali Bongo and Jean Ping - 5,594 votes out of a total of 627,805 names on the electoral register. The results in Upper Ogoué, a province in the southeast of the country that is a stronghold of the Bongo family, came in for special criticism: participation is said to have reached 99.93 %, as against the national figure of 54.4 %, with 95.46 % of votes in favour of Ali Bongo, according to the official figures. Jean Ping’s followers immediately contested the results, denounced electoral fraud and declared that their candidate had won. In a speech on September 2, Jean Ping proclaimed himself President of Gabon and called for all votes to be recounted, in all polling stations, one by one.

The right of the people to choose freely their representatives must be respected. The lack of transparency, and electoral fraud, in order to remain in power are the vectors of political violence in Africa. The international community must guarantee that the President who will be recognised is the one for whom the Gabonese voted, and this will prevent the country from plunging into political and security chaos declared Drissa Traoré, FIDH Vice-president.

Our organisations call upon the international community, the African Union and CEMAC in particular, to organise as a matter of urgency, an extraordinary summit on the situation in Gabon, extended to include partners such as the United States, the European Union and France, who have already spoken out in favour of measures designed to ease tension and achieve transparency, thereby contributing to the settlement of the electoral disputes. The aim in particular should be to bring the Gabonese authorities to publish the results for each individual polling station, and if necessary to recount the votes in the presence of international representatives. Gabon’s international partners should also enjoin the Gabonese State to respect its international obligations to promote governance and human rights guaranteed in particular by the Constitutive Act of the African Union, the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) that emphasises the importance of consolidating a continental culture of political change-over based on regularly held elections that are transparent, free and fair, conducted by national electoral bodies that are independent, competent and impartial.

The pre-electoral context in Gabon was characterised by a deterioration of the political and security situation. There was political tension due to the numerous appeals by the opposition challenging the validity of Ali Bongo’s candidature, which were thrown out by the Constitutional Court on July 25th last. There were many allegations of fraud and corruption in connexion with the drawing up of the electoral register for the election to be held on August 27, 2016. In addition, the security forces repressed violently the peaceful demonstration organised by the opposition on July 23, 2016, when dozens of demonstrators were wounded, including bullet wounds, and a dozen other arrested. With the resumption of violence since the announcement of the result, widespread troubles in the whole country are to be feared.

Gabon has had only three presidents since the end of French colonisation on August 17, 1960, the second being Omar Bongo Ondima from 1967 to 2009, a reign of 42 years. In 2009 his son, Ali Bongo Ondima became president after an election marred by a number of irregularities and which was followed by several days of violence, leading to the death of three persons, and tens of persons injured. If Ali Bongo remains president after the present elections, by 2023 the Bongo family will have been in power for 56 years.

Between 2015 and 2018, there will be 61 elections, including 30 presidential elections, in 32 African countries. To avoid manipulations, fraud and violence due to flawed elections, FIDH has gathered together in the #MyVoteMustCount coalition a hundred-odd African and international civil society and citizens’ movements organisations. Together we demand that those in power respect the legitimate right of people to choose freely their representatives through regular, free, transparent and peaceful elections.

To that end, on July 18 and 19, 2016 FIDH and the OIF INGO conference invited 30 civil society and citizens’ movements organisations to meet in Dakar to discuss electoral processes in Africa. They adopted a road map for change through elections, and reasserted their commitment to the #MyVoteMustCount campaign as framework for international mobilisation.

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