The African dictator who gave sanctuary to Gambian tyrant Yahya Jammeh last year has hinted that he may eventually be willing to hand him over to face trial for human rights abuses.
Teodoro Obiang, the long-running president of Equatorial Guinea, took in Mr Jammeh last January after the Gambian president unexpectedly lost elections to opposition underdog Adama Barrow, who once worked as a security guard in a London Argos.
Mr Jammeh’s downfall was hailed as a David-and-Goliath victory for democracy in tiny Gambia, where he had ruled for 22 years. But his departure to Equatorial Guinea led many of those who suffered human rights abuses during his regime to assume that he would never face a court.
Mr Obiang has never signed the statutes of the International Criminal Court, meaning that Mr Jammeh cannot be extradited without his host’s permission.
However, despite a widespread presumption that Mr Obiang would dismiss extradition requests out of hand, he said in a rare interview last week that they would be studied and “considered”.
“If there is a request, I will analyse it with my lawyers,” he told Radio France Internationale, in his first public comment on the matter.
Mr Obiang, 75, took in Mr Jammeh on January 22 last year as part of a deal brokered by the regional ECOWAS power bloc to persuade him to step down peacefully.
ECOWAS troops were already massing on the Gambian border, with orders to remove Mr Jammeh and his 300-strong presidential guard by force if necessary. But the offer of sanctuary from Mr Obiang helped persuade Mr Jammeh not to try to fight.
It was widely speculated at the time that Mr Obiang’s offer was made partly as a gesture of solidarity between one African dictator and another. The Equatorial Guinean leader, who seized power in 1979, has just as dismal a human rights record as Mr Jammeh.
Elsewhere in last week’s radio interview, Mr Obiang voiced the opinion that extraditing Mr Jammeh “might be a bad political idea”, given that he had eventually agreed to go peacefully.
But his pledge that he would review any such request on its legal merits was interpreted by human rights groups as a discreet sign that he wanted to leave the door open on the matter.
Mr Obiang claims to want to retire from power soon, and might view the granting of an extradition request as a way of improving his own legacy.