Monitoring and Documentation of Human Rights Violation
NIGERIA PRISON DECONGESTION : LAWYERS ALERT’S MODEL
As at January 2013, there were 52,904 prisoners in Nigeria, with only 16,103 as convicts. The remaining 60% are awaiting trial prisoners, who are awaiting decision on their matters, or for their trial to commence.
This is no news in Nigeria. The news is that; some of these awaiting trial prisoners spend as much as 11 years awaiting trial. Most exhaust the time they would have spent if found guilty, awaiting trial.
More alarming is that even when they are released for want of evidence after several years, no compensation is made or paid out.
Lawyers Alert owing to the above situation made efforts at resolving this using Benue State as a pilot, particularly the Makurdi Federal Prisons.
Our first attempt was to visit the prison and carry out a census of all awaiting trial inmates that were unrepresented by Lawyers and/or could not afford Lawyers. 70% of the inmates were awaiting trial prisoners and about 518 had no Lawyers representing them after spending average of 2 years awaiting trial.
We thereafter began offering free legal assistance to these prisoners, securing bail for about 113 in a year.
While this was a feat, we knew our efforts still fell very short, it was a vicious cycle, as we took prisoners out, more came in, and Lawyers Alert was easily overwhelmed.
This method was not sustainable and certainly cannot resolve the issue, was the realization.
It was at this point, we carried out a study on what exactly are the issues. For the purpose of this write up, we will not go into the reasons, except to say that the reasons exhibited a cardinal lesson.
Lesson is, there cannot be a sustainable, lasting, and result oriented resolution of awaiting trial prisoners in Nigeria without the involvement of all the sectors of the Criminal Justice Sector.
These sectors are the Police, who make the arrest, the Solicitor-General office, that proffer the charges and prosecute, the Courts that conduct trial and the Prison that keeps the inmates. Healthy additions are the Justice Sector NGOs.
A viable solution would mean, these sectors coming together to discuss the situation and find a holistic approach.
This Lawyers Alert did for BenueState with the kind Assistance of the Norwegian Human Rights Fund.
The stakeholders came together to discuss prisoners rights and how it is violated at every point. (We had posted a detailed report, see the archives).
The Criminal Justice Sector Agencies in Benue thereafter began a process of networking and working harmoniously to ensure prisoners were not unduly kept in detention in prison while awaiting trial.
In less than three months they had achieved the success we registered in over a year of giving just Legal Assistance.
The agencies discussed together in Bimonthly meetings and assistance rendered where necessary. For example when the Solicitor General complained of lack of power (electricity) so as to generate prompt Legal Advice, Lawyers Alert donated a Generator to alleviate the problem. This was made possible by networking and sharing of challenges.
When the Prisons complained of lack of vehicles in conveying prisoners to Court, Lawyers Alert under the Access to Justice Programme of the British Council (we were the focal organization in Benue) facilitated the delivery of Buses to the Makurdi Federal Prisons.
It is worthy to note that years after the inception of these inter- sectoral meetings, the Chief Judge of the State, impressed by it, created a formal institution named State Justice Reform Committee that now includes all stakeholders.
Today Makurdi Federal Prison is the only Prison in Nigeria with the least percentage of awaiting trial prisoners in proportion percentage with convicts.
We believe this model can be replicated in other jurisdictions.
Unfortunately, most States Justice Sector, including the Federal Ministry of Justice is so taken in by the lone, though commendable effort of legal assistance. This will not solve the situation unfortunately.
Prisoners rights are human rights after all
ICTJ: Conviction of Ríos Montt on Genocide a Victory for Justice in Guatemala
New York, NY, April 18, 2013—The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) welcomes today’s verdict in Guatemala by the High Risk Court in the trial of former military dictator José Efrain Ríos Montt. The 86-year-old ex-general was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity against the indigenous Mayan Ixil population during Guatemala’s Civil War. He was sentenced to a total of 80 years in prison. José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, the co-accused, who headed military intelligence under Ríos Montt, was found innocent.
A three-judge panel found retired army general Ríos Montt guilty on all charges, which stemmed from the massacre of 1,771 Mayan Ixils, massive displacement, and subjecting the Ixil group to conditions designed to destroy it. The actions were part of military plans in 1982 – 1983 to eliminate not only the guerrilla forces in the internal armed conflict, but anyone suspected of supporting their objectives. It is estimated that in the course of the three-decades of armed conflict some 200,000 people were killed or forcibly disappeared, the vast majority of them indigenous Maya.
“This was the first time that a former head of state has been tried for genocide in clearly genuine national proceedings. Despite the many obstacles, its success shows the importance of justice being done nationally, even when the odds are long. It is a great leap forward in the struggle for justice in Guatemala and globally,” said David Tolbert, president of ICTJ. “Today will be carved into the history of the fight against impunity for mass atrocities as a victory for victims in this country, and for all who care about the state guaranteeing, rather than abusing, the fundamental rights of citizens.”
Presiding Justice Jazmín Barrios, together with the two other judges on the tribunal, based the guilty verdict on the evidence presented that Ríos Montt ordered the plans that led to genocide, and that he had full knowledge of the massacres and other atrocities being committed, yet did nothing to stop them despite having the power to do so.
The Association for Justice and Reconciliation, a group of victims and survivors of the genocide, and the Center for Legal Action on Human Rights (CALDH) were instrumental in the process. They investigated the atrocities, brought cases to prosecutors as far back as 1997, and continued to develop them over the ensuing years. Great credit also goes to Guatemala´s current Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz, and her team, who had the commitment and will to prosecute the crimes.
“This has been a long process, where victims who came together to seek justice have honored their innocent loved ones. It has taken enormous courage and diligence. The prosecutors and judges deserve great credit for doing their job under very difficult circumstances. The trial is part of Guatemala’s difficult struggle to face the truth, but with this historic judgment, the space for racism and denial is smaller, and the dignity and rights of those persecuted by a racist state are recognized,” said ICTJ Vice President Paul Seils.
A coup brought Ríos Montt to power in March 1982, making him the de facto head of state until August 1983. During his 17-month rule, one of the bloodiest periods in Guatemalan recent history, he led a counterinsurgency against leftist guerrillas, which saw a dramatic increase in violence against civilians.
Although the crimes had been committed over 30 years ago, the court heard testimony from dozens of massacre survivors, some of whom were young children when Guatemalan forces attacked and razed their villages. Their stories helped show that the military considered all Ixil civilians, including children, to be legitimate military targets. The trial also heard particularly horrendous evidence of the widespread practice of rape that occurred during massacres and as part of the military occupation.
“Judge Barrios said today that all of Guatemala was harmed by these crimes. Today, all of Guatemala should now be proud of the capacity of its institutions and the courage of the authorities who prosecuted and tried this case,” explained Marcie Mersky, ICTJ Program Director. “Despite the many difficulties and remaining legal challenges, Guatemala has set an example for the region and the rest of the world in the struggle for accountability.
The trial comes fourteen years after the UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission concluded that agents of the Guatemalan state had committed acts of genocide against the Mayan Ixil people and other ethnic groups, and that the state had an obligation to investigate and sanction those crimes.
LAWYERS ALERT AND EXTRA JUDICIAL KILLINGS IN NIGERIA
In its simplest form, Extra-Judicial killing connote executions outside the parameters of judicial procedure. Any killing outside of judicial pronouncement of the killing is deemed to be summary execution.
The act of extra-judicial killing is about the highest human rights violations, as the victim(s) is/are denied the right to fair hearing, defense and life.
In it report to mark the 63rd anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights day recently, the international Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law Nigeria released a report in which it stated that “over 54,000 Nigerians have died in extra-judicial killings since 1999. Some of these include extra-judicial killings by security forces, summary executions, vigilante killings, and abductions by militant groups’
Of the 54,000 estimated deaths, the Nigeria Police Force is estimated to have executed over 15,000 Nigerians in extra-judicial killings between 1999 and 2009 that is an average of 1,500 deaths per annum or 5 deaths per day, across police formations in Nigeria. Most of these deaths in police formation according to human rights groups are carried out by the deadly Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) found in all the police State headquarters across the country.
Lawyers Alert have often sought redress for the victims and/or their families where we can or when these complaints are made to us.
In Benue and Nassarawa States and North Central Nigeria Lawyers Alert is presently in Court over 2 of such executions by men of the Nigeria Police. The two cases are that of Bem Akaaza and Peter Ityukembe (both deceased).
Bem Akaaza wrongfully died in the custody of the Nigerian Police Force in 2006. He was arrested in lieu of his Brother who was wanted by the police. Bem died under mysterious and questionable circumstances which inform the litigation.
Peter Ityukembe was shot and killed by a cop who was his co-suitor in contention for a hand of a lady in marriage. Peter was tag a criminal by the police officers who carried out this act.
These matters have been heard and reserved for judgments within the month of June 2012. The full text of the judgments will be uploaded here as delivered by the Federal High Courts in Abuja and Makurdi respectively.
Zamfara: A Children Dying Field?
Every rainy season in the north western Nigeria State of Zamfara, at least 300 children die from lead poisoning owing to artisanal mining of Gold in the state.
The Gold industry in Zamfara is large, in both geographic coverage and quantity. For eleven years, there has been artisanal and illegal mining of gold in at least three local government areas in the state, and the industry is rapidly growing, due to the interest of the private sector and the government.
In 2008, the Zamfara state government contracted the services of U.S.-based Greggs Gem and Mining Corp and a Chinese mining company, Gold Concentrator Company, to carry out a survey of the mining areas, and to assess the quantity and quality of the gold in the State.
Though the full report is yet to be released, preliminary reports indicated that gold is embedded in about three local government areas in commercial and exportable quantity. Though the full report is yet to be released owing to squabbles over money issues between the consultants and the government of Zamfara, it is noteworthy that shortly thereafter, the Nigeria President, Goodluck Jonathan officially commissioned the Zamfara Integrated Solid Minerals processing Plant in Gusau, the state capital with a Chinese Firm partnering the State government in the establishment of the Plant that will mine gold.
The President cautioned mining should be done in line with international standards and best practices.
The reverse has however been the case as mining is done with profits as the sole interest and not the protection of the locales nor their rights to safe environment. The villages of Abare, Daji, and Sunke in the Anka local government area most affected.
The effects of excessive mining by foreign corporations and artisanal mining operations over the past eleven years have been detrimental to these villages and their local populations, especially with respect to the health and lives of the region’s children.
Every year from 2004 to date , reports of deaths of as many as 300 children as a result of acute lead poisoning associated with gold mining operations have trickled in from various sources. The chief epidemiologist at the Zamfara State Ministry of Health puts the deaths at an average of 115 per year.
In 2010 for instance, while National newspapers carried varying accounts they all were in agreement on the enormous number of fatalities. The Nigeria Tribune reported 215 deaths, The Punch reported 300, and the Daily Trust reported 278. Local populations put the number at over 300 children.
The Medicins Sans Frontieres, MSF Briefing Paper of May 2012 titled “Lead Poisoning Crisis in Zamfara State northern Nigeria” states the reason for peculiar effect on children is because while Adults and children over 5 are susceptible to lead toxicity, children under 5 are especially vulnerable as they are closer to the ground than adults, and often crawl, getting dust on their hands, which then ends up being ingested as they eat with those dusty hands, or simply put their hands in their mouths.
The briefing paper states that Young children absorb higher percentages of ingested lead: around 40-50% compared to 10% in adults cause of ongoing development of vital organs in young children which makes them more vulnerable to damage.
The private sector and government however have done very little in reversing the trend of deaths which spikes every rainy season when the ground is softer for digging and mining.
The financial returns is immense for government and the private sector. Since 2009, the price of gold has appreciated substantially, from around US$800 per ounce, to US$1653 (May 2012) resulting in increasingly active artisanal mining industry. Artisanal mining is essentially digging up rocks by hand, breaking them into pebbles with hammers, grinding the pebbles to sand with flour mills, and then extracting gold from the sand using sluicing, panning, and mercury amalgamation (and in some cases, cyanidation).
The Nigerian government, under the federal constitution, is obliged to observe, respect, provide for, and maintain civil society and public good in the form of services including—but not limited to—health and education. Nigeria is one of the few countries in the developing world to have decentralized resource management where a great deal of responsibility lies with state and local community governments. However, according to the World Bank “there is little systematic evidence on how these institutions… work in in Nigeria See. “Local Government Accountability for Service Delivery in Nigeria, The World Bank – Development Research Group (2004). Needless to add, Zamfara shows a complete lack of responsibility of these obligations by government.
Lack of democratic tradition, public passivity, low environmental consciousness and knowledge, poor economic conditions, and widespread corruption are key causes of the situation. Poor governance has meant that companies operate with little involvement or inclusion of affected populations in processes relating to how business should be conducted in their communities. Lack of participation and information at every stage of the process paves the way for economic and social rights violations, including violations of the right to water, food, and land.
Unless civil society can actively participate and receive information on decisions and practices that ultimately affect their most basic needs, such as mining for instance, they are unable to exercise their rights. Civil Society must begin to frame the human rights implications of natural resource exploitation as economic and social rights violations
3) Safer mining practices
As earlier stated, these are desirable but tall dreams as Government and the private sector is yet to appreciate or has refused to appreciate the tragedy of Zamfara, a blind state in Nigeria noted only for the introduction of Sharia.
So as the rainy season approaches, children will again become endangered species in the quiet north western state of Nigeria where Poverty is deep and 75% of its people survive below the $1 per day.
There are indeed rainy seasons in Zamfara