Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

Report
November 5, 1996

Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

5 Order a review by a higher and independent judicial body of all convictions and
sentences by special tribunals which have tried political prisoners or which have imposed
the death penalty, with a view to releasing or retrying prisoners if their trials did not conform to international fair trial standards and reforming such special tribunals to bring them into line with those standards - or abolishing them if this is impossible

International legal opinion is united in the view that the trials of the alleged coup-plotters and of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 14 other supporters of MOSOP during 1995 were grossly unfair and politically-motivated. It follows that the resulting convictions and sentences were serious miscarriages of justice. All Nigerians who may have been wrongly and unfairly convicted on politically-motivated charges have the right to demand a review of their convictions and sentences by a higher and independent judicial body. Given the apparent lack of procedural safeguards protecting human rights in most of the special tribunals currently in existence, this review should extend across the entire special tribunal system in order to ensure that in future justice really is done.

While it is too late to save the lives of those who have been executed on the basis of politically-motivated charges after grossly unfair trials, the requirements of justice demand that the truth be known. For political prisoners currently serving prison sentences, including many of the alleged coup-plotters imprisoned in 1995, a review of convictions and sentences by a higher and independent judicial body will at last offer the prospect of genuine justice.

Special tribunals outside the normal judicial system have been the main vehicle through which the present Nigerian government has sought and secured politically-motivated convictions after grossly unfair trials. When the government commits itself to the principle of fair and prompt trials with full rights of defence, it shouldimmediately take steps to reform all those special tribunals which have tried in the past, or may try in the future, political prisoners. These include: Civil Disturbances Special Tribunals, which have passed death sentences after unfair and politically-motivated trials in 1993 and 1995; and Special Military Tribunals, which have passed death sentences after secret and unfair trials in 1976, 1986, 1990 and 1995.

In addition, the government should immediately take steps to reform those special tribunals which try criminal prisoners and which have the power to impose the death penalty, but which do not allow right of appeal against conviction to a higher and independent judicial body. In particular, there should be urgent reform of the Robbery and Firearms Tribunals. Currently, the death penalty is mandatory for all those convicted of armed robbery by Robbery and Firearms Tribunals.