Covering events from January - December 2004

People continued to be sentenced to death by stoning for sexually-related offences; no executions were carried out in 2004. Violent attacks, some involving members of the security forces, were reported from the Niger Delta. Violence against women was widespread and gender-based discrimination both in law and in practice remained a serious concern. The authorities failed to conduct independent investigations into human rights abuses and to bring those responsible to justice. Critics of the government faced harassment and intimidation.

Death penalty

No executions were carried out during 2004. Death sentences were imposed both by the high courts and by Sharia (Islamic law) courts in northern Nigeria.

Appellate courts overturned three death sentences passed by courts in northern states under new Sharia penal legislation. The new Sharia penal legislation continued to criminalize behaviour termed as zina (sexually-related offences) and changed the punishment for Muslims convicted of zina from flogging to a mandatory death sentence, applicable to people who are or have been married. Offences defined in this way were used to deny both women and men their rights to privacy and to freedom of expression and association, and in practice frequently to deny women access to justice. Rules of evidence discriminating against women continued to be applied, putting women at greater risk of conviction on charges of zina. Trials under the new Sharia penal legislation were in general grossly unfair, denying the poor and vulnerable basic rights such as the right to a lawyer. The new Sharia penal legislation also extended jurisdiction in capital cases to the lowest courts in the Sharia judicial system.

  • In March, an Upper Sharia Court in Bauchi State, north-eastern Nigeria, acquitted Jibrin Babaji. He had been sentenced to death by stoning in September 2003 by a Sharia court in Bauchi, after being convicted of "sodomy". The main reasons given for his acquittal were that he had been denied his right to a fair trial and the lower court had committed procedural errors relating to the use of his "confession" as evidence.
  • In September, the Upper Sharia court in Katanga, Bauchi State, sentenced Saleh Dabo to death by stoning after convicting him of rape.
  • In November, the Dass Upper Sharia Court in Bauchi State acquitted Hajara Ibrahim, who had been convicted of zina and sentenced to death by stoning earlier in the year. One of the reasons for her acquittal was that she had never been married and so should not have been given a mandatory death sentence.
  • In December, the Upper Sharia Court in Ningi, Bauchi State acquitted Daso Adamu, who had been convicted of zina and sentenced to death by stoning in September. One of the reasons for the acquittal was that the Lower Sharia Court had committed procedural errors in relation to the use of her confession as evidence. She had been detained in Ningi prison with her three-month-old daughter until she was released on bail. The man in the case reportedly denied the charges and was not convicted.
  • An appeal against a sentence of death by stoning for zina passed on Fatima Usman and Ahmadu Ibrahim in May 2002 was further adjourned in 2004 by the Sharia Court of Appeal in Minna, Niger State, and was still pending at the end of the year. The couple had been released on humanitarian grounds to await the appeal.

In October, the National Study Group on the

Death Penalty, set up by President Obasanjo in November 2003, published its report, recommending the imposition of a moratorium on executions until the Nigerian justice system could guarantee fair trial and due process. The Federal Government had not imposed a moratorium by the end of the year.

The Niger Delta: oil, human rights and violence

There was continuing violence in the Niger Delta and reports of excessive use of force by the security forces or law enforcement officials. Many hundreds of people were reportedly killed in the Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States in 2004. The economic, social and cultural rights of the people in the Niger Delta – the main oil-producing region in the country – continued in general to be unfulfilled, leading to increasing frustration and tension both within and between communities. The situation was exacerbated by the easy availability of guns in the region. Oil company employees and assets, such as pipelines, were frequently targeted for attack and sabotage.

  • In January the Ohoror-Uwheru community in Ughelli North Local Government Area in Delta State was attacked by armed men, reportedly including members of Operation Restore Hope, a joint military and police task force. An unknown number of civilians were killed in the attack and as many as 50 women and girls were reportedly raped.
  • In August, at least 20 civilians were known to have been killed in fighting between rival groups in a spate of violence in and around Port Harcourt, Rivers State, although national non-governmental organizations reported a considerably higher figure. Large numbers of people were believed to have fled the area around Port Harcourt to escape the violence.

Violence against women

Violence against women remained widespread and persistent. Gender-based violence reported in 2004 included sexual violence, violence in the family, female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Discriminatory legislation remained in place. For example, the Criminal Code, applicable in the southern states, prescribes three years' imprisonment for unlawful and indecent assault if the victim is a man, but two years' imprisonment if the victim is a woman. The Penal Code, applicable in the northern states, states that a man is empowered to "correct" an erring child, pupil, servant or wife, provided that it does not amount to serious physical injury.

Although statistics on violence in the family were not available, such violence was believed to be widespread. Abuses were reported against both men and women in 2004 involving physical assault, incest and rape of domestic workers. Economic hardship and discriminatory laws and practices regarding divorce, child maintenance and the employment of women meant that many women were forced to remain within violent relationships.

In Lagos State a draft Domestic Violence Bill, which had received two readings in the House of Assembly, continued to face resistance and was the subject of fierce debate about cultural values.

Violence in the family was often not reported because of the lack of a legal framework for the protection of victims and the practices and attitudes of law enforcement officials and religious leaders, among others. Very few perpetrators were brought to justice.

Impunity

Nigeria continued to fail to bring to justice not only those responsible for human rights violations in Nigeria but also individuals charged with grave offences under international criminal law.

There was no progress in investigations into human rights violations committed by the Nigerian armed forces under the present government, particularly the killing of civilians at Odi, Bayelsa State, in 1999 and in Benue State in 2001.

The findings of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission, known as the Oputa Panel, had still not been made public and the government had made no public statement about plans for implementing the recommendations by the end of 2004. Established in 1999 to investigate human rights violations committed between 1966 and the return to civilian rule in 1999, the Oputa Panel had reported the findings of its public hearings and investigations to President Obasanjo in May 2002.

  • The whereabouts of a District Police Officer implicated in the murder of 16-year-old Nnaemeka Ugwuoke and 17-year-old Izuchukwu Ayogu in Enugu State in March 2002 remained unknown. He allegedly escaped from police custody in Abuja. The mutilated bodies of the two students had been found dumped at a construction site two weeks after they had been arbitrarily detained by officers of the Enugu State police. Almost three years later, no one had been brought to justice for the killings.

Charles Taylor

In August 2003, Liberian President Charles Taylor relinquished power and left Liberia for Nigeria with implicit guarantees from the Nigerian government that he would be neither prosecuted in Nigeria nor surrendered to the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

An international warrant for his arrest had been issued after the Special Court announced his indictment in June 2003 for war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law during Sierra Leone's internal armed conflict on the basis of his active support for the Sierra Leonean armed opposition. AI protested that the Nigerian government had violated its obligations under international law, but calls for Charles Taylor to be surrendered to the Special

Court or investigated with a view to criminal or extradition proceedings in Nigerian courts were ignored.

On 31 May 2004, the Nigerian Federal High Court granted leave to two Nigerians who had been tortured by members of the armed opposition while in Sierra Leone to challenge the asylum granted by the Nigerian government to Charles Taylor on the basis that he did not qualify for asylum and that the correct asylum process had not been followed. In November, an amicus curiae brief submitted by AI to the Federal High Court was accepted. In it AI challenged the Nigerian government's decision on the grounds that it violates Nigeria's obligations under international law, including the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the African Union's Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. At the end of the year proceedings were continuing.

Human rights defenders and journalists under attack

Human rights defenders and journalists who were critical of the government, and in particular of President Obasanjo, continued to face intimidation and harassment. A number of journalists and trade unionists were detained and interrogated by the police.

  • On 4 and 5 September the State Security Service (SSS) arrested two staff members and the security guard of the magazine Insider Weekly for allegedly publishing articles critical of the President. Copies of the forthcoming issue of the magazine were confiscated, and computers and files were seized. The three men were interrogated and held in incommunicado detention before they were released without charge on 10 September.
  • On 9 September the SSS arrested journalist Isaac Umunna when he went to seek the release of his wife on bail; she had been arrested by the SSS the previous day. Isaac Umunna was a former journalist for Insider Weekly and was working for the London-based magazine Africa Today and the Lagos-based weekly Global Star at the time of his arrest. On 15 September, he was moved to an unknown location. He was released without charge on 17 September.
  • On 29 April the SSS arrested Buba Galadima, a member of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) and chairman of the mobilization committee of the CNPP. He was held in incommunicado detention for some time before being released without charge on 13 May. His arrest effectively prevented him from taking part in an anti-government protest planned for 3 May.

AI country visits

AI delegates visited Nigeria in March and November.

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