ECOWAS court finds Nigeria guilty of human rights violations

From Godwin Tsa Abuja

The Community Court of Justice (ECOWAS), yesterday held that Nigeria violated the human rights of Obianuju Catherine Udeh and two others.

The regional court specifically found Nigeria in breach of Articles 1, 4, 6, 9, 10, and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, specifically pertaining to the right to life, security of person, freedom of expression, assembly and association, prohibition of torture, duty of the state to investigate, and the right to effective remedy.

The applicants, Obianuju Catherine Udeh, Perpetual Kamsi and Dabiraoluwa Adeyinka, alleged that the violations occurred during the peaceful protests at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos State on October 20, and 21, 2020.

Justice Koroma Mohamed Sengu, the Judge Rapporteur, who delivered the judgment said the Court dismissed the allegation that the right to life as guaranteed under Article 4 of the ACPHR was violated. However, he said that the aespondent must pay each Applicant N2 million as compensation for violations of their security of person, prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, duty to investigate human rights violations, and right to effective remedy.

Additionally, the respondent must adhere to its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, investigate and prosecute its agents responsible for these violations, and report to the Court within six months on the measures taken to implement this judgment.

The applicants alleged that during the peaceful protests against the SARS Unit of the Nigerian Police Force at Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos State, on October 20 and 21, 2020, the respondent committed several human rights violations. Triggered by the alleged killing of Daniel Chibuike, the protests were aimed to address police harassment and brutality. The First applicant’s claims include that the soldiers shot protesters, resulting in deaths and injuries, which she live-streamed, subsequently receiving threatening phone calls that forced her into hiding, and eventual asylum. The second applicant, responsible for protesters’ welfare, described how soldiers began shooting after a power cut, leading to her hospitalisation due to police tear gas. The third applicant recounted how he narrowly escaped being shot.

She argued that she and her colleagues took over the victims’ care and she faced ongoing threats and surveillance, believed to be by the respondent’s agents. The applicants sought declaratory reliefs and compensation from the Court for these violations.

The respondent denied all claims made by the applicants, asserting that the protesters unlawfully assembled at Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020, under the guise of protesting against SARS. The respondent also maintained that its agents followed strict rules of engagement and did not shoot or kill protesters. It argued that the first applicant incited the crowd by playing music and using her Instagram page to stir disaffection against law enforcement, who were targeting escapee members of Boko Haram and bandits.

The respondent contended that the second applicant’s provision of logistics and welfare support indicated her support for the violent protest.

He claimed that soldiers were present to restore peace until the police arrived, denying any harm inflicted on protesters, and the refusal of ambulance access.

The respondent also denied that the third applicant’s presence was peaceful, asserting it was meant to escalate violence.

He argued that the treatment and care of the injured were managed by the Lagos State Government and submitted that the applicants have not provided credible evidence to support their claims, or the reliefs sought.

In its judgment, the Court found there was no violation of the right to life as the applicants filed their claims in vitam.

However, it held that several articles of the ACHPR were breached by the respondent, which occasioned fundamental breaches of human rights violation therein.

Furthermore, the Court declared that the applicants were denied the right to an effective remedy. It ordered that the respondent makes reparations to the applicants for the violation of their fundamental human rights.

On the three-member panel were Justices Dupe Atoki, presiding and Ricardo Claúdio Monteiro Gonçalves.

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