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Econonmy Indian Ocean Justice Transparency

Without Principled Jurists, There is Little Reason for Optimism for Justice in the Seychelles

Justice Mathilda Twomey of Seychelles was considered one of the greatest legal minds the Seychelles had ever known, appointed to the position of Chief Justice in August of 2015 based on the unanimous recommendation of the Constitutional Appointments Authority. She had previously served as non-resident judge of the Court of Appeal where she began in March 2011 as the first female judge in the country’s history. Mrs Twomey also had an impressive legal career prior, including both in the private sector as well as in academia. Her commitment to justice and human rights led to her being the first the first Seychellois, and only one of fifteen people globally, to be awarded the prestigious Franco-German Human Rights Prize. It was her commitment to human rights that would ultimately prove to be her greatest challenge. 

Upon accepting her position as Chief Justice, Mrs Twomey made her acceptance contingent on a limited 5-year term. This was the case, in her words, “because I believe that long periods of service, particularly in positions of leadership and power, are a key way in which a public servant forgets their mandate and loses their vigour, and the role becomes less about the noble office, but the individual that holds it.” She was not wrong to believe that lifetime appointments are a recipe for nepotism and corruption, with the majority of judges polled in a 2020 survey opposing lifetime appointments for exactly that reason. 

What has yet to be reported is that discussions were actually already underway to extend her term, had Danny Faure, and incumbent United Seychelles, won the 2020 election. Throughout her career, Mrs Twomey’s commitment has been above all to two central issues, the protection of human rights and combatting corruption. As she stated prior to her departure, in a not so subtle message to the yet to be elected (at the time) Wavel Ramkalawan, “We need to hold people to account – even when they are well loved, or wealthy or powerful.”

In her farewell prior to her departure, Mrs Twomey also highlighted a number of areas that required attention in the Seychelles justice system. The two principles most pertinent among these included constitutionalism which ensures that, “the rule of law is upheld, where fundamental human rights and freedoms of all are valued, and where accountability and transparency are the norm, and not the exception”. She also discussed accountability where, “each person needs to play their part despite the risks”.

Having such a principled crusader against corruption would have certainly proved to be extremely inconvenient for an administration as full of corruption as that of Wavel Ramkalawan’s. Similarly problematic would have been Mrs Twomey’s commitment to human rights. Ramkalawn’s government therefore saw her eventually replaced with a strategic appointment to the Supreme Court, current Chief Justice Ronny Govinden, who has been orchestrating, on the government’s behalf a politically motivated trial against 9 defendants arrested at the end of last year. Govinden is a known lackey of the President, even reporting to him on a weekly basis during informal updates which take place outside of business hours over the weekend. Govinden in turn, has continued to prove his loyalty to the President, updating him throughout the course of the trial and advancing legislation which might play in the government’s favor. 

The case has seen extensive corruption, miscarriages of justice and the violation of defendants most basic human rights. Govinden was appointed to the position a mere month after Ramkalawan was elected and has seen this case as his trial by fire. Successfully ridding the country of the President’s political enemies, alongside a second Ramkalawan term, would certainly see Govinden progressing to even more powerful political positions. 

Mrs Twomey understood that despite her best efforts to create a justice system whose sole focus was justice, circumstance, along with the individuals involved with the justice system would make that impossible. One such example was lead investigator in the case, Patrick Humphrey. A former British detective and one of the leads on training local investigators, Humphrey became close to Twomey and tried to abuse that friendship to get information on the case’s progress. Incidentally it was exactly around this time that Twomey participated in an interview for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), where she highlighted in relation to legal proceedings, the need “to ensure that the process is not susceptible to abuse or undue influence”. 

In her farewell speech, Twomey, despite again emphasizing her previous commitment to step down after 5 years, alluded to the true reason behind her departure. She stated, “Turning a blind eye to petty corruption, tardy behavior, lack of transparency and accountability delegitimizes our institution. We need to stride towards achieving human rights and not dismantle what has been built. Our judges need to be brave and act justly all the time.” 

Her decision to move down to the Court of Appeal was a brave one that not many would take. Feeling that her ability to positively impact the country’s justice system would be better served by working on a court that was less politicized could not have been more true. Sadly, since her departure, the Supreme Court has only become more and more politically manipulated. Legal procedure has been thrown out the window, defendants held without bail for months on end in appalling conditions, while the government works with the court hand in hand to change laws such that they serve their own agenda. 

Lack of rule of law has also seen the passing of constitutional amendments supporting the government’s authoritarian tendencies, such as a recent amendment which saw the military allowing the military to operate in domestic matters outside states of emergency. Concerns were raised at the highest levels of government, including by Ombudsman, Nichole Tirant-Ghérardi who said, “The spectre of members of the defence forces maintaining law and order or running any essential service in the country on a permanent or semi-permanent basis does not sit well with that notion of democracy”. 
Without principled jurists like Mathilda Twomey leading the country’s courts, unfortunately, the future of the Seychelles justice system is not encouraging. The last available World Economic Forum ranking for the country isn’t very optimistic, placing the Seychelles justice system in 63rd place, after countries where corruption in the justice system is public knowledge, including South Africa, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan. The ranking also identified the trend as headed in a negative direction. Only time will tell how accurate that prediction will prove to be, however, if the ongoing corruption trial in the Seychelles is any indication, there isn’t much reason for optimism.

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Indian Ocean Transparency

The Times: English Barristers Criticised over Seychelles ‘Show Trial’

Senior London barristers allege that due process has been breached in the Seychelles
Senior London barristers allege that due process has been breached in the Seychelles

Senior London barristers are embroiled in a row over “a politically motivated prosecution” that has allegedly breached due process in the Seychelles.

The family of two defendants who are accused of corruption and weapons charges on the Indian Ocean island have expressed “distress” that one of the prosecution lawyers is a QC from a prominent human rights chambers.

Stephen Powles QC, a tenant at Doughty Street, has been instructed by the Seychelles government jointly to lead the prosecution against nine defendants who are associated with or related to France Albert René, the country’s former resident, who died aged 83 in 2019.

René had stepped down in 2004, but his party remained in power until 2020, when it lost elections for the first time in 43 years to a party led by Wavel Ramkalawan, the present leader.

Powles is joined on the prosecution side by Edmund Vickers QC of Red Lion Chambers and two junior barristers from London sets. The defendants include Mukesh Valabhji and his wife, Laura. Valabhji, a former senior figure at the Seychelles Marketing Board, and his wife have been accused of conspiracy to launder money and possession of weapons. The pair deny all of the charges. Their lawyers, based in London at the law firm Kobre & Kim, claim that the authorities have committed “numerous abuses of procedure and of the defendants’ rights”. The lawyers allege that the pair have been unlawfully detained for six months and refused bail “without charge or trial, despite the defendants representing no threat or flight risk”. They claim that the Seychelles government retrospectively amended corruption laws to give the prosecution new powers. The legal team argues that the anti-corruption commission of the Seychelles (ACCS), a prosecution body, ultimately acknowledged that it lacked the authority to bring charges against the defendants. However, Jason Masimore, a partner at Kobre & Kim, says that the court “refused to dismiss the charges so that the government could pass new laws in favour of the ACCS”.

He adds: “This act of judicial overreach highlights concerns we have raised that there is no separation of powers between the judiciary and government.” He says that the “politically motivated show trial continues to lack any credible evidence of wrongdoing by the accused and contains a complete absence of due process”.

There are no suggestions that Powles and the other London lawyers acting for the prosecution have behaved unlawfully or unethically.

However, one close family member of the couple says: “We are in despair and matters are made worse for us as we see that the prosecution is receiving help from two leading QCs from highly respected London chambers, one of which has always had a stellar reputation in the field of human rights.”

The case is the latest in which English barristers have faced criticism for acting for overseas governments that have what some consider to be poor records on human rights.

While human rights in the former British colony are widely considered to have improved, there has been a history of abuses since the island gained independence in 1976.

Last year, David Perry QC, a tenant at 6KBW College Hill chambers, was criticised after he was instructed to prosecute pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong. The silk eventually withdrew from the case.

In September Dinah Rose QC of Blackstone Chambers who is also the president of Magdalen College at Oxford University, was criticised by an LGBT student group for acting for the government of the Cayman Islands as it defended its ban on gay marriage in a Privy Council case.

Before this month’s Commonwealth heads of government meeting, the Valabhjis’ legal team aims to raise the case with Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC, who is the Commonwealth secretary-general and a former Labour attorney-general. The Valabhjis’ lawyers say that they have already raised concerns with the British Foreign Office.

The Seychelles authorities did not respond to a request for comment. Powles declined to comment as the case was ongoing.

Republished from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/english-barristers-criticised-over-seychelles-show-trial-vvvq0ntgp written by Jonathan Ames

Categories
Indian Ocean Politics Transparency

Believe It or Not The President’s Son is a Drug Dealer

A recent drug bust of over two tons of drugs aboard the French vessel Le Floréal was made only 200 nautical miles from Victoria. Taking place within the context of an EU NAVFOR ATALANTA Counter-Narcotics operation, President Wavel Ramkalawan used this as an opportunity to reaffirm that, “Seychelles will continue to cooperate with its international partners in the fight against drugs”.

Considering this statement and The President’s firm commitment to go hard on those engaged in trafficking the drugs which are destroying families in the Seychelles, some might find it hard to believe that Wavel Ramkalawan’s own son Samuel Ramkalawan was implicated, not too long ago, in a drug dealing scandal. It would not be surprising if you have not heard of it considering the efforts Ramkalawan himself, along with his cronies, have made to hush up the story. One might be surprised to see that the President would hush up a story about a son who so embarrassed him in front of the nation with a public fist fight. However, Ramkalawan’s alleged “commitment” to the war on drugs means he cannot afford to be publicly perceived to have a drug dealing member of the family, even if he is not close with Samuel.

February 2021 saw a story reported involving the deportation of two Kenyan nationals, Nassim Anwar Onezime and her Seychellois husband, Andy Terry Onezime for drug dealing. Both were known to law enforcement and had been, according to 2017 Seychelles court documents, suspected by the National Drug Enforcement Agency (NDEA) of heroin trafficking between Kenya & Seychelles as far back as 2013. They had also previously been engaged in a case with the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). How Samuel Ramkalawan, the son of The President became mixed up with them is unclear however, what is known it that Nassim was deported back to Kenya on Monday February 1, 2021 in the early hours of the morning onboard an Island Development Company (IDC) aircraft. 

Although President Ramkalawan issued a statement on the subject of the arrest, naturally no mention was made of his own son’s involvement. A later interview given by Nassim similarly made no mention of Samuel’s involvement. It should not be expected that the son of an autocrat caught up in a drug scandal would be made public information, however this is information which the public has the right and duty to know. 

The lightining speed deportation of a drug smuggler caught red handed should raise more than a few eyebrows. Deportation usually takes time and the country in which a criminal is caught due to the need for proper judicial processing of all individuals caught. It is also perplexing why they were deported on a state-owned private airplane run by IDC, where incidentally Samuel Ramkalawan’s brother, Caleb, is a trainee pilot. What exactly was it that the government was trying to hide by getting Nassim out of the country as soon as possible? More likely than not, Samuel Ramkalawan’s involvement in the crime. 

As a President who has emphasized his commitment to the war on drugs, alongside his being a public figure with a commitment to the people, it is unacceptable to be hushing up a story of such significance. While the President himself bears no responsibility for the actions of his adult son, he does have a responsibility to be transparent with the people of the Seychelles. And that means making them aware of his son’s involvement in the illegal drug trade which has been tearing the country apart. 

Even more concerning is what else the President might be hiding from the public. Are there other things we should know about? Backdoor deals taking place enriching himself and his cronies at our expense? Payoffs changing hands to ensure that secrets are well-guarded from the general public? Public tenders being issued without the required transparency and public competition? Other cases that lack fair judicial process?

The law is the law is the law. And if it doesn’t apply to everyone, it applies to no one. This is something President Ramkalawan must understand. It’s time he came forward and was transparent with the people. Without a sense of trust between the President and the people, what is democracy in Seychelles worth? 

Update 29 of April, 2022:

Unlawful arrest of a Kenyan national is the subject of an appeal.

Nasim Onezime, the Kenyan national who was detained and deported to Kenya, had her appeal refused by the Court of Appeal. She filed a petition with the Constitutional Court after her deportation on February 1, 2021, seeking compensation from damages from the government for unlawful arrest and detention that violated numerous of her constitutional rights. The petition included a personal affidavit.

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Transparency

Rumblings from The Seychelles People’s Defense Force

Rumblings from The Seychelles People’s Defense Forces

Rumblings from the #SPDF that the military isn’t pleased with #Ramkalawan. Concerns about democratic backsliding in #Seychelles have extended to our #soldiers now

#FreeSeychelles9 #humanrights #military #Democracy

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Indian Ocean Transparency

Democracy in the Seychelles Can Only Go Downhill From Here

Laura Valabhji Bail Denied

The March 23 bail hearing of Laura Valabhji provided those following the case of the missing USD 50 million donation with all the confirmation they need that the case is yet another show trial orchestrated by Wavel Ramkalwan’s government. The bail request, which sought to secure Valabhji’s transfer to house arrest, was rejected. Having been remanded already for almost 5 months now and fully cooperating with law enforcement officials, the rejection of her bail application is indeed peculiar. In light of the fact that the government entity leading the prosecution, the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS), self-admittedly will not be ready for trial for at least another year, the rejection of Valabhji’s application raises many questions that the public are asking.

Valabhji is an attorney by profession and worked extensively with the Attorney General’s office in the past. Without any concrete charges having been brought against her in particular, it is unclear why a woman with a sterling reputation is still being held, other than for the “crime” of being part of a family that had past political affiliations with the previous government.

With her defence claiming, “there is simply not one jot, one iota, one piece of evidence that directly implicates Laura Valabhji in this alleged offence”, at a minimum Valabhji should have been offered bail under terms similar to those offered to another defendant, Sarah Zarqani-René. Although even this would be a “catch-22” of sorts. Zarqani-René was offered to be released to house arrest in exchange for USD 2 million in bail, which mockingly the judge stipulated must be paid all in cash. Had Valabhji been offered such a deal and come up with the funds, the prosecution would have surely used this against her, noting her ability to put together such a sum.

Or perhaps, there is something else more sinister at play than Valabhji’s “guilt”, leading law enforcement and the ACCS to want to keep her behind bars at all costs? As a successful family in a small country, one can only image the extent of the looting which undoubtably took place on the properties of the Valabhji family subsequent to their arrest.

Part of the accusations now being brought against her husband Mukesh include stashing weapons behind a wall in one of their homes. Putting aside the fact that the cache was a known government one, the fact that it was found behind a wall, only exemplifies the extent to which authorities made it their business to hunt for, and probably steal, anything and everything of value. This includes a vast collection of expensive wines, priceless artwork and personal effects. None of this should come as a surprise in a country led by a government where rule of law is lowest on the list of government priorities.

The structure of the justice system in Seychelles is problematic from a legal perspective more generally, granting the government prosecutors expansive authority and placing the burden of proof, in cases such as these, on the defendant. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has in the past expressed significant concern with similar regulations in place in other authoritarian states. In Russia, for example, criticism was expressed in reference to judicial powers the government has when prosecuting human rights defenders with, “wide discretionary powers granted to the Prosecutor’s Office and Executive Authorities”, alongside the, “absence of prior judicial review of decisions…(as) another key procedural flaw that leaves the affected civil society organizations without effective safeguards”.

With Chief Justice Ronny Govinden, a close ally of president Wavel Ramkalawan presiding over the case, all “legal support” he provides that enables the government to further enrich itself will surely find its way back to his own pocket. After all, how did he become Chief Justice if not due to the personal relations he has cultivated throughout the years with government elites. It would not come as a surprise to anyone if Govinden decided to pursue a political career after his time in the legal profession comes to an end. He will have surely developed for himself a wide enough network of senior politicians owing him favors.

The way the government has gone about dealing with Laura Valabhji has exposed their hand and it’s not a very strong one. While holding other suspects behind bars, such as former Chief of Staff Antoine Leopold Payet and former Minister of Finance Maurice Lousteau Lalanne can be excused away as perhaps in one way or another pertinent to the trial, locking up spouses of associates of the former President could only be the work of an authoritarian regime looking to solidify power for years to come. The case of Laura Valabhji is therefore far more than a human rights issue. It should be of concern to all those who value true justice and rule of law and would like to see it preserved in the Seychelles. Because when the government lowers itself to the level of arresting the wives of members of an imaginary political opposition, you know that the state of law and order in the Seychelles can only go downhill from here.

Categories
Indian Ocean Politics Transparency

Power At What Expense?

The Centralization of Power

A 2019 report on Human Rights in Seychelles found a list of issues that the country is suffering from. The report primarily focused on human rights issues ranging from police brutality and prolonged pretrial detention to restrictions on freedom of speech, sexual harassment, and abuse of power by police officers.

Further complicating the Human Rights situation in Seychelles is the fact that the law allows for independent radio and television, while supposedly prohibiting political parties and religious organizations from operating radio stations.

Yet the government funds and has founded half of all radio and television stations: two out of the country’s four radio stations and one of its two television stations. Where not until long ago that the government policed the content being broadcasted while it has allegedly stopped doing that… Straight from the get-go, this seems to be a convenient way for the government to control and suppress potential opposition parties.

In addition, the law requires telecommunication companies to submit subscriber information to the government which has hampered the growth of local non-government-funded or founded stations. Furthermore, the law allows the minister of information technology, currently Vice President Ahmed Afif, to prohibit the broadcast of any material believed to be against the “national interest” or “objectionable.” Unsurprisingly VP Ahmed Afif has been involved in numerous corruption scandals, from the appropriation of government land, amending regulations resulting in less scrutiny in money laundering laws, and misuse of government funds.

Seychelles’s government currently looking at amending the constitution in order to allow military personnel to assist the police without the need for a state emergency. Discussion have been initiated between the Attorney General’s office and the Seychelles Defense Forces, while other parties in the discussions to amend the Constitution will be included, such as the Office of the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission

Though at first glance the potential amendment to the constitution allowing military personnel to assist the police without the need for a state of emergency is unremarkable. It becomes particularly concerning when you realize that the Seychelles People’s Defense Forces, composed of the infantry, the special forces, the coast guard, and the air force, report to the president, who acts as the minister of defense.

How can a country in pursuit of being an advocate for Human Rights, pursue the centralization of power without checks. The legitimacy, political motivation, and the potential consequence of such an amendment help shine a light on the perilous condition of the liberty of the country.

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Economy Indian Ocean Politics Transparency

Time to Put an End to Democratic Backsliding in Seychelles is Now

Recent charges levied in a still developing high profile court case in the Seychelles came as no surprise to many. Specifically, conspiracy to commit offences under the Seychelles Prevention of Terrorism Act were levied against ex-President France Albert Rene’s wife Sarah, his son Leslie Benoiton an officer of the Seychelles Defence Forces, Maurice Loustau-Lalanne a former public servant, Lekha Nair former director general of the Ministry of Finance, and a politically tied businessman named Mukesh Valabhji and his wife Laura. This came as no surprise not because these individuals are necessarily guilty, but rather, no surprise because the case is yet another example of the extent to which Wavel Ramkalawan’s government will abuse the country’s justice system in its pursuit of political enemies.

Arrested in November of last year, Rene, Benoiton, Loustau-Lalanne, Nair and the Valabhjis were charged in December with being responsible for, or benefiting from, US $50 million donated from by the UAE to the Seychelles in 2002. The funds, donated to the Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB), which Valabhji was the Director of at the time, were earmarked for helping the country cover food imports it was struggling to pay for. This was as a result of an explosion in its foreign debt and a severe dwindling of its foreign reserves. There were US $11 million in receipts for the purchase of both food and petrol, as intended with the gift, for the Seychellois people made from this account using the funds. New evidence produced by the prosecution shows even more receipts to pay SMB debts.

In functional democracies, the guilt of suspects is usually for a court of law to decide. What is however, becoming more and more apparent in this case is that there is a political motivation behind the trial. Current President Wavel Ramkalawan and his Vice President Ahmed Afif appear to have made it a goal of theirs to rid the country of any and all political opponents, starting with those associated with the former government.

Serving in the opposition for the majority of his political career, Ramkalawan and his party successfully unseated President Danny Faure and his United Seychelles (US) party in October 2020, ending the US party’s continuous rule of the island since 1993. It was not long however, before the new government, under Ramkalawan’s leadership, began consolidating power through arresting “political opposition” members. Ramkalawan indeed needed to solidify his rule vis-a-via a real or perceived opposition.

This decapitation of anyone powerful formerly affiliated with the US party and former President René began with Mukesh Valabhji but by no means ended there. Other measures employed to alter the country’s history and solidify Ramkalawan and the party’s rule included, for example, renaming streets whose original names did not serve the current leadership’s political agenda.

The political motivation behind the arrests can be further seen by looking at those arrested and examining their positions under the former President and party. Those arrested include the former head of the armed forces, the ex-President Rene’s wife Sarah and son Leslie, plus former director general of the Ministry of Finance, a public servant bodyguard together with Mukesh Valabhji and his wife Laura who were overt supporters of President Rene and his successors. A more recently arrested suspect (number 7 in the political witch-hunt) was the former financial controller of the Seychelles Marketing Board Ganeshan Ratnasabapathy.

Interestingly, those associated with the current President who served in key positions at the time the funds went missing have not been arrested. These include current Vice President Ahmed Afif, who was the head of foreign exchange at the central bank at the time and who clearly oversaw and personally approved the transfer of the funds to their desired destination. The role of Afif in the affair indeed is quite peculiar, as even if not guilty, one might expect an investigation to have ensued to at least determine the extent of his guilt. No such investigation ever took place.

The latest development of levying charges against Valabhji under the terrorism act is a new development, and one which should be concerning to those following the delicate democratic transition the archipelago nation has been undergoing. Although not employed previously, these charges allege Valabhji to have stored weapons at his home, with the aim of committing terrorist acts. Found after the couple’s arrest, one can only question the origins of this “weapons cache”.

The President has abused the judicial system at the expense of his country’s own military weapons caches to win a cheap political victory. The weapons seized were imported and registered to the Seychelles Defence Forces (SDF) and were knowingly stored by the government and the armed forces at certain locations after a previous coup attempt stole weapons from the country’s main armory. These weapons were stored at Mukesh Valabhji’s residence at the request and authority of the government now ironically charging him with conspiracy to commit terrorism.

The implications of this case go far beyond what will become of Mukesh Valabhji, his wife Laura, and now 5 additional defendants in the case. Serial violators of human rights do not begin as such. They begin by testing the waters and gauging what the international community’s appetite is for their crimes. Indeed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad did this when he pushed then President Obama’s chemical weapon “red line”, graduating to the eventual mass murder of civilians.

At a time when the decline of democracy across the African continent is being exacerbated, countries where the future of democracy can still be salvaged must be addressed. With a Council on Foreign Relations report identifying that, “More Africans live under fully or partially authoritarian states today than at most points in the last two decades”, the time to put an end to democratic backsliding in the Seychelles is now.

With authoritarian regimes, and particularly those dependent on foreign support and mindful of the need to maintain positive foreign opinion, the Seychelles is an optimal case study of a country where international organizations must be more active. The IMF is one such example, approving a 32-month extended arrangement for the Seychelles for US $105.63 million, or 323 percent of Seychelles’ quota only 6 months ago.

Non-contingent international aid is an extremely dangerous contributor to democratic backsliding. Conversely, if employed correctly, and as has been found in empirical research, conditional aid can have a powerful effect on ensuring democratic futures. The case at hand should be understood within this context.

As stated by Valabhji’s lawyer Frank Elizabeth “issues may seem petty, but they must be addressed in the utmost urgency as it seems the police does not seem to understand the human rights aspects of the case”. The obstruction of due process alleged by lawyers involved is unacceptable behavior by a country claiming to be a democracy.

Not adequately addressing these issues only gives the current government the reassurances it is looking for, namely that the violation of justice and democratic rights are acceptable. As long as you mask it under perceptions of a seemingly democratic nation and prolong due process, one can continue being the recipient of international largesse while trampling on the rights of its citizens, all the while ignoring the fact that as former Prime Minister William Gladstone so aptly put it, “Justice delayed is justice denied”.

Categories
Economy Indian Ocean Transparency

Seychelles Condemns Pirate Attack Off The Coast of Hodeidah

The Seychelles government is profoundly worried by the recent attacks on the UAE-flagged vessel in the Red Sea, as Seychelles has long been at the forefront of the battle against piracy in the Western Indian Ocean.

Somali pirates operate in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, principally. Attacks have occurred around 1,000 nautical miles off the Somali coast, primarily targeting tankers and dry bulkers, which bring in tens of millions of cash for pirates.

The Gulf of Aden is bordered on the north by Yemen, on the east by the Arabian Sea, on the west by Djibouti, and on the south by the Guardafui Channel, Socotra, Somaliland, and Somalia. It connects to the Red Sea in the northwest through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, and to the Arabian Sea in the east. Its waterways are among the most perilous in the world for piracy.

In recent years, pirates have moved their focus from hijacking oil tankers to the more lucrative kidnapping of sailors for ransom, according to Noel Choong, the head of the Kuala Lumpur-based IMB piracy reporting center.

The Seychelles government strongly condemns the recent pirate attacks off the coast of Hodeidah on the civilian cargo ship RWABEE.

Such flagrant acts jeopardize regional security and put the safety of the region’s population at risk, in addition to posing major challenges to sea commerce and international trade.

All parties are also urged to follow international law and seek peaceful solutions to the crisis, according to Seychelles.

Seychelles demands that the vessel and her crew be released immediately in light of the circumstances.

Categories
Economy Politics Transparency

Something Smells Fishy!

The Seychelles Tuna Fishing Scam

Huge, industrial fishing vessels operate in the Seychelles national waters yearly, looking for a fish known as “blue gold”: tuna. The most sought-after tuna is the yellow fin tuna, but fishers also catch big-eye tuna, skipjack tuna, and swordfish – all of which turn a healthy profit in the international market.

Undeniably, the fishing industry fortifies the Seychelles’ economy. In 2019, the small East African archipelago nation exported about 6,600 metric tons of fish and crustaceans, which brought more than $13 million into the country, according to a local news report. Fisheries is the second most important sector after tourism in the Seychelles, contributing to 20% of the GDP and employing 17% of the population, according to the World Bank. Yet conservationists have long been sounding the alarm that fish stocks, particularly yellow fin tuna (Thunnus albacares), are over harvested.

To address over fishing, the Seychelles decided in 2017 to join the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI), an enterprise born out of global discussions about how to deal with illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the waters around Africa, particularly by commercial fleets operated by foreign nations.

Philippe Michaud, a consultant at the Seychelles’ ministry of fisheries, said the country joined FiTI because doing so aligned with the government’s implementation of the “Blue Economy,” a national initiative focused on making fishing and other ocean-related activities more sustainable.

According to Michaud, “I think FiTI should contribute in making people more aware of the problems, because we’re not running out of fish, because we can buy fish every day, we think that it’s going to go on forever. So, we need to mobilize all the different stakeholders and say, ‘This is a problem.’”

In December 2021, the Seychelles released its second report to FiTI, which detailed the government’s efforts to increase public access to certain information about the management and direction of its fisheries. This includes an online registry of large-scale fishing vessels operating in Seychelles waters, and information about what they need to pay to cast their nets and lines in these waters.

While the waters surrounding the Seychelles yield prolific catches, a lot of this fish isn’t being caught by Seychellois themselves, but by fishers from places like China, Taiwan and member states of the European Union.

One of the most contentious issues facing the Seychelles is the overfishing of Indian Ocean yellow fin tuna, which some experts say is being driven by EU-controlled vessels operating under Seychellois flags. According to a Mongabay investigation conducted last year, the Seychelles’ entire purse seine fleet — that is, vessels that use circular, wall-like netting to trap species like tuna — was fully controlled by European interests.

The Seychelles’ second annual report submitted to FiTI, which covers 2020, shows efforts made by the government to increase transparency around many aspects of its fisheries, including its foreign interests. For instance, the government has now published summaries of the license agreements for local and foreign fishers on the Seychelles Fishing Authority’s website.

Although this move seemingly towards transparency should be positive, there are limitations to the information in these reports. For instance, to date nothing has been revealed about how these agreements are negotiated with the EU; the entire industry rests on hidden agreements between the Ramkalawan government & EU member states. Additionally, the Ramkalawan government has attempted to explain away this lack of transparency under the nebulous guise of ‘national security’.

Yet the report shows it isn’t just the EU putting pressure on the Seychelles’ fisheries — it’s also vessels from Taiwan and China. Last year, the Seychelles government published a registry of the 180 large-scale vessels authorized to fish in the country’s EEZ; 66 of them operated under the Taiwanese flag, while eight operated under the Chinese flag. The report also notes that some agreements between the Seychelles and Taiwanese and Chinese fishing interests have not been published due to confidentiality clauses. There’s also insufficient data regarding ​​catches, landings, transhipments, discards, and fishing efforts for the industrial longline fleet, which is largely operated by vessels from Taiwan and China.

What this boils down to is that opaque foreign interests are making huge amounts of profit from Seychellois waters, permitted & facilitated by the government. Why all the secrecy?

The only logical conclusion is that political forces are profiting from these contracts via kickbacks or other underhanded payments. If this wasn’t the case – why has the government in Victoria gone through the motions of window-dressing, presenting reports touting ‘increased transparency’ while at the same time blocking the release of the most critical records.

Something smells fishy in Seychelles.