Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

November 5, 1996

Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

In April 1996, following the 56th session of the Human Rights Committee, the body which monitors compliance with the ICCPR, the Committee noted that there were "fundamental inconsistencies between the obligations undertaken by Nigeria under the Covenant. . . and the implementation of those rights". It cited, in particular, practices such as indefinite or incommunicado detention and the suppression of habeas corpus. It added that the establishment by military decree of special tribunals which exclude free choice of a lawyer and deny the right of appeal led to "the arbitrary deprivation of life of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other co-accused" in violation of the ICCPR. It also criticized the apparent lack of any serious investigations into allegations of torture, ill-treatment or conditions of detention, which it said raised serious issues under the ICCPR. Finally, the Committee made a number of urgent recommendations. In particular, it recommended that all decrees establishing special tribunals or ousting normal constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights or the jurisdiction of the normal courts be abrogated. It called for any trials before such special tribunals to be suspended immediately. It also recommended that urgent steps be taken to ensure that people facing trials are afforded all the guarantees of a fair trial as provided by the ICCPR, including the right to have their conviction and sentence reviewed by a higher court [UN document CCPR/C/79/Add. 64].

In July 1996, following the 57th session of the Human Rights Committee, the Committee noted the reform measures announced by the Nigerian government in May, welcoming the removal of military personnel from Civil Disturbances Special Tribunals and the repeal of Decree No. 14 of 1994, which precluded courts from issuing writs of habeas corpus. However, it reiterated many of its previous concerns and urgent recommendations and added some new recommendations. For example, it repeated its call for the abrogation of all decrees revoking or limiting guarantees of fundamental rights and freedoms. It called "for the release of all persons who have been detained arbitrarily or without charges", a reduction in the period of pre-trial detention and an end to incommunicado detention. It also called for an urgent improvement in detention conditions so that they met international standards. Further, the Committee called upon the Nigerian government to consider abolishing the death penalty. Finally, it called for a review of the overall legal framework for the protection of human rights in Nigeria to bring it fully into line with the principles of the ICCPR, including in relation to the rights to freedom of expression and to form and join trades unions. The Nigerian government expressed its willingness to undertake such a review (UN Document CCPR/C79/Add. 65).

In April 1996, the UN Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution on Nigeria which expressed its continuing concern at the human rights situation in Nigeria and asked the UN Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions and on the independence of judges and lawyers to visit Nigeria and submit a joint report at its next meeting in 1997. However, efforts by some countries to include the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Nigeria in the final resolution were unsuccessful.

Also in April 1996, a UN mission went to Nigeria on the instructions of the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros Ghali. It was mandated to investigate the trials of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP supporters by Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal during 1995 and the government´s transition program. The mission promptly reported to the UN Secretary-General and made a series of recommendations on human rights. They included: