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ADDRESSING SOCIAL INJUSTICE THROUGH STRATEGIC IMPACT LITIGATION.. CASE STUDY OF LAWYERS ALERT.

By Chigoziem Ellen Onugha

SIL

For problems ranging from poverty to bad governance, laws and policies in a country like Nigeria with over 200million estimated human population, it is common to have most of its citizens vulnerable. Citizens encounter more problems than they do welfare and these problems often require professionals like lawyers to address them. Owing to the fact that lawyers also are sometimes vulnerable in certain situations, one will begin to wonder where lies help for the common man.

Help for the common man lies in the strength of a few determined professionals who are willing to stick both their necks and their resources out.

Lawyers Alert, a human rights organization that has its focus on free legal assistance to vulnerable groups and indigent persons in Nigeria, under “Strategic Impact Litigation”. Strategic Impact Litigation which is commonly known as “SIL” is a form of litigation which is aimed at addressing public issues for the sole purpose of making impact in the society.

Before this project, there were certain irregularities, for instance, prisons congestion, lives of citizens were lost without anyone being questioned, patients were detained in public health establishments due to their inability to pay their bills, persons were relieved of their jobs owing to their HIV statuses etc.

The objectives of this project are as follows:

  1. To make positive societal impact
  2. To address issues affecting the public
  3. To address problems of the common man who ordinarily does not have means of helping himself
  4. To maintain law and order
  5. To ensure that human rights are respected.

Lawyers Alert in recent times has approached various courts in Nigeria with the following cases for determination:

  1. Lawyers Alert V Government of Borno State & 1 Or

The government of Borno State demolished houses, living homes and hotels in Borno State without notice and compensation, thereby rendering people homeless, jobless and destroying people’s businesses. According to the said government of Borno State, the buildings inhabited criminals and formed hideouts for same. Lawyers Alert took up the matter and instituted an action against the government of Borno State in the Borno State High Court of justice, in the Maiduguri judicial division, for violating the human rights of its citizens, asking the court for the following.

  • A declaration that any residents of Galadima Area, Baga Road and indeed of the entire Maiduguri metropolis are entitled to own moveable and immoveable properties in Maiduguri and anywhere in Nigeria.
  • A declaration that the Defendants’ act of demolishing hotels, residential houses, restaurants, shops and other public places in Galadima Area, Baga Road, and indeed the entire Maiduguri metropolis on grounds of public interest, without the due process of law amounts to a violation of the constitutional rights of the concerned citizens.
  • A perpetual injunction restraining the 1st and 2nd Defendants from further demolishing properties of residents of Galadima Area, Baga Road and indeed of the entire Maiduguri metropolis, Borno state until the Defendants have fully compensated or resettled owners of such properties marked for further demolition.
  • An order of the court directing the 1st Defendants to take inventory of all the moveable and immoveable properties so far demolished in Maiduguri metropolis and to compensate and/or resettle owners of these properties
  • And for such further orders as the honourable court may deem fit to grant in the circumstances.

This matter is currently on appeal.

  1. Lawyers Alert V the Attorney-General of the Federation & 2 Ors

 

Pursuant to the provisions of the HIV and AIDS (anti-discrimination) Act, 2014, the duty to ensure compliance with the Act is vested on the Attorney-General of the Federation. Most unfortunately, five years after enactment of the said Act, compliance is yet to be made. Thus, noncompliance with the said Act has resulted in high discrimination of persons living with HIV, at workplaces. On that note, Lawyers Alert instituted an action in the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Abuja judicial division, asking the following reliefs:

 

  • A declaration that Employers of labour (Ministries, Agencies and

Departments, including the Private Sector) are bound to develop and register HIV&AIDS workplace policies.

 

  • A declaration that the Respondent is bound to ensure compliance with the provisions of section 21(1) (2) of the HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) Act, being the oversight body saddled with the responsibility of ensuring compliance with the Act.

 

  • An order of court directing the Respondent to ensure that employers of

labour (Ministries, Agencies and Departments, including the Private Sector) develop and register HIV & AIDS workplace policy within 30 days of this Order.

 

  • And for such further orders as this Honourable court may deem fit to make in this case.
  1. Lawyers Alert V Benue State University of Agriculture, Makurdi

 

A school bus conveying students of Benue State university of Agriculture, Makurdi, from a part of the school to another part of the school. Unfortunately, it had an accident and a student was severely injured and due to the weight of the accident, the student went into oblivion. The injured student was immediately rushed to the school’s clinic by some other students who were at the scene. On getting there, the medical personnel refused to treat the student because on their demand for the student’s clinic card, the good Samaritans could not provide it. even when majority of the students who rushed the unconscious accident victim to the hospital testified that they knew her ad also went ahead to mention her department, the clinic medical personnel did not change their minds on treating the victim. Unfortunately, while the medical personnel was still hellbent on treating the victim, the victim lost so much blood and passed away. Students were devastated and a riot ensued. In the process, some of the school’s facilities were destroyed.

The school after the riot, demanded that each student should pay the sum of N10,000 for to enable repairs and replacement of all that were destroyed. On hearing this, Lawyers Alert took up prosecution of the case and immediately filed an action against the school at the Federal High Court of Nigeria, asking the court for the following reliefs:

 

  • A declaration that the 1st Respondent’s clinic’s act of refusing to administer medical treatment to the victims of the accident on campus for the reason that they were unable to produce the 1st Respondent’s identity cards, leading to the death of some of them, contravenes section 20 of the National Health Act, 2014 and amounts to a serious violation of the students’ rights to medical care and to life as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria, 1999.

 

  • A declaration that the 1st Respondent’s clinic’s act of requesting students’ identity card before administering treatment to the accident victims even in an emergency situation amounts to a violation of section 20 of the National Health Act, 2014, the ethics and practice of the medical profession and a gross violation of the students’ rights to life.

 

  • A declaration that the Respondent’s action is illegal, null and void and of no legal justification.

 

  • A declaration that the Defendants’ action of imposing the sum of N10, 000.00 (Ten Thousand Naira) fine or any other money or amount on the students of the 1st Respondent is illegal, mischievous, gold digging, null and void, and of no legal justification.

 

  • An order of this Honourable Court restraining the Respondents from collecting the sum of N10, 000.00 (Ten Thousand Naira) or any other amount of money by whatever name or description from the students of the 1st Respondent as fine, damages, levy, fee or any other name whatsoever over the alleged students’ demonstration that took place on the campus of the 1st Respondent on the 15th day of August, 2018.

 

IN THE ALTERNATIVE

 

  • An order directing the Respondents to forthwith refund any amount of money by whatever name or description, already collected from the students of the 1st Respondent over the demonstration that took place on the campus of the 1st Respondent on the 15th day of August, 2018.

 

  • A perpetual injunction restraining the 1st Respondent’s clinic from further requesting for identity cards from individuals in emergency medical situations before treatment and medical attention.

 

  • Such incidental orders as the justice of this case may demand.

 

Effectively, with regards to all issues of access to justice, all hands must be on deck. Lawyers Alert is doing its best to ensure there is improved access to justice for vulnerable groups, but much more is still needed to be done.

 

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Corporations: human rights’ real enemies?

Shell_logo_1957

Corporate misconduct is well-known and wide-spread. For example, Shell has been complicit in forcefully chasing the Ogoni people of Nigeria from their homes to gain access to oil and is still responsible for the devastation of the environment and health caused by numerous oil spills in the region. Nestlé promoted its ‘infant formula’ milk powder and discouraged breast feeding in developing countries which lead to major health problems for the children as the parents used unclean water to make the milk. More recently, in Bangladesh, where the buildings of cheap textile industries collapsed, clothes are produced for all major brands without any respect for labour rights of the employees.

International human rights law does however acknowledge that not all perpetrations are directly being committed by states, but had to bend over backwards to come up with a solution for the state-based human rights framework which didn’t allow obligations for non-state actors. The solution to the problem was found in the magic concept of “positive obligations” (also “the obligation to protect”, in addition to the classic “obligation to respect” human rights). Instead of making non-state actors such as corporations directly responsible under human rights law, human rights bodies started to hold states accountable not only for their conduct, but also for the conduct of private actors which operated on their territory. If certain non-state actors, including corporations and, even, individuals, violate, for example, my human right to privacy, the state is responsible for not having prevented this behaviour by, for example, adopting laws prohibiting the said conduct. This has led to ridiculous situations where states are held to have violated human rights law because paparazzi took pictures of certain persons (Von Hannover v. Germany before the European Court of Human Rights).

Consequently, non-state actors do not at all face the consequences of violating human rights. In addition, corporations are not confined within the borders of one state, but they operate worldwide through subcontractors and subsidiaries, which are separate entities which makes it even harder to hold ‘parent corporations’ operating abroad accountable at all.

However, international law has shown that it is not impossible to put direct obligations on actors other than the state. Under international criminal law individuals  are internationally accountable for certain crimes they have perpetrated, regardless of national boundaries. Humanitarian law applies to certain armed groups when they have a certain amount of control over the territory they are operating in. Moreover, international human rights law is applied to corporations through domestic litigation. The best example is that of the US Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreign individuals to address human rights violations committed by corporations abroad.

Nevertheless, international human rights law as such does not (yet) impose binding obligations on corporations. There only exist multiple voluntary codes whereby corporations themselves can decide whether they sign up or not, and even when they violate the code they won’t face consequences such as court proceedings. The latest of these voluntary frameworks is the one introduced by the UN, namely the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which, however, places the primary responsibility for human rights on the state.

To my mind it is therefore feasible – with the necessary political will – to conclude binding treaties to regulate human rights violations by corporations. Moreover, this is even a necessary route to take if we want corporations to take human rights seriously. The human rights framework clearly needs to be updated, if it wants to stand a chance against its 21st century enemies

Culled from Humanimal Rights

 

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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