Written by Rachel Jung of Inkling for UWCSEA MUN.
Diplomatic legislature is important to the development and maintenance of world peace. A fundamental core of global democracy is allowing dialogue between all international voices, and the laws of diplomacy help make sure communication goes smoothly when in foreign countries and gives a stage to all, even to countries with weaker influence. However, what happens when diplomacy starts to clash with another country’s sense of justice?
This is the case for Equatorial Guinea and France.
Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue is Equatorial Guinea’s former Minister of Agriculture and Forestry and current Vice President, as well as the son of the current President of the country. While in France on a diplomatic mission, several complaints pushed Transparency International France to investigate the accusations of Mangue misappropriating public funds of Equatorial Guinea to France to purchase private goods. French officials detained Mangue and seized property on 42 Avenue Foch, as well as the assets within.
Equatorial Guinea is furious at what they call unlawful prosecution, arrest, and slander of Mangue. They state that Mangue is a man dedicated to his people; he fought for justice and worked tirelessly to improve his country, and he would not have embezzled his people’s money for personal pleasure. More importantly, Equatorial Guinea accuses France violating countless diplomatic rights written in the 1961 Vienna Convention. Most prominently, Article 31 which states that diplomats have immunity from a foreign country’s criminal jurisdiction while completing their diplomatic mission. As the house on 42 Avenue Foch belonged to Mangue, it is under the same immunity as him, so France’s acquisition of the estate is also illegal. Equatorial Guinea sees this event as France using their vast power to bully a smaller nation, so they take the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) seeking a fair hearing and ruling.
France, however, declares themselves innocent and not in violation of any of the articles of the Vienna Convention. France claims that Equatorial Guinea is abusing diplomatic rights in order to gain advantage over France and hide Mangue’s corruption and embezzlement. The luxury mansion on 42 Avenue Foch is not a diplomatic mission. It does not comply to the definition of a diplomatic mission and the assets within did not seem to be related to any kind of diplomatic mission as they were mainly luxury items. Furthermore, an investigation in 2008 showed that public funds were invested into the house. The house was also not registered as the diplomatic residence; Equatorial Guinea attempted to register it as one later on, a request that France rejected as the investigation was already underway at that point. In addition, Equatorial Guinea promoted him from Minister to Vice President while Mangue was undergoing two judiciary examination, both of which he failed to attend.
“From any perspective, it would look suspicious as to why, all of a sudden, [Mangue] would go from a low ranking position to such a high ranking position within a crucial amount of time,” the investigating judge of the case, and France’s witness, says.
France takes the coinciding actions to support their belief that Equatorial Guinea is abusing diplomatic rights to cover up a national scandal. They also state that the ICJ has no jurisdiction over this case as Equatorial Guinea only use specific articles of the Vienna Convention and the Convention of Transnational Organised Crime in order to extend the case to the ICJ’s reach; any general international law is not directly under the jurisdiction of the ICJ.
How the ICJ decide to act will determine crucial social and political aspects of the world. If the ICJ favour Equatorial Guinea, then a message could be spread globally that even less influential countries can receive justice when standing up to a major power and that the ICJ can remain impartial to national influence.
“[This case] will make people more aware of the fact that even small countries can stand to big countries—bully countries, if I could say—such as France,” the delegate of Equatorial Guinea says. She continues, “And that the fact that the International Court of Justice believes in justice… So if small countries like Equatorial Guinea can fight and file cases, it’s a place for all.”
Should the ICJ favour France, France would be able to apply justice to a man they believe to be guilty of misappropriation of funds and also make a statement about the ICJ’s role in the world.
Judge Moro expands on this, “[France] will be able to justify how the International Court of Justice can’t just be used as a playground tool by smaller countries to gain more international clout.”
In either case, it is undeniable that the verdict of the case will set a precedent for any future cases similar to the one faced by Equatorial Guinea and France today.
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