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THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN NIGERIA: WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?

BY: D.U INNOCENT ESQ.

Human-rights

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. … Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

There has been an outcry, on the gross violation of human rights that has ravaged Nigeria in recent times. These violations have led to massive loss of lives, properties and the displacement of families and communities. These violations have also led to the rise in the insecurity and the volatile nature of our society presently. It is important to note that victims of these violations are innocent civilians whose lives are being disrupted and even destroyed. Who should we hold responsible?

The European Union reported at the end of 2018, that 7.1 million people were estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance, and more than 850,000 people in Borno are estimated to be in areas that are inaccessible to humanitarian organizations. The conflicts between farmer communities and herdsmen escalated markedly in 2018, becoming the deadliest crisis in Nigeria with thousands of casualties and hundreds of thousands internally displaced. While the root causes are fundamentally economic and lack of governance, the violence increasingly takes on a worrying ethno-religious dimension.
Federal and State governments are being criticized for the failure to ensure security, rule of law and for not addressing the widespread impunity. [1] The brutal violation of Human Rights in Benue, Nigeria which occurred in January 2018 caused by decades of old communal conflicts between nomadic herdsmen and farmers in the Middle Belt further exacerbated the security situation in the country. As at least 1,600 people were killed and another 300,000 displaced as a result of the violence.

In June 2018, at least 84 people were killed in double suicide bomb attacks attributed to Boko Haram at a mosque in Mubi, Adamawa State. The heightened political tensions ahead of the 2019 elections led to the violations of human rights of Nigerians through Abductions, suicide bombings, and attacks on civilian targets by Boko Haram. At least 1,200 people died and nearly 200,000 were displaced in the northeast in 2018.[2]

As of 2019, 1.8 million Nigerians have fled from their homes and are internally displaced, the majority in Borno State – the epicentre of the crisis. 80 per cent of internally displaced people are women and children, and one in four are under the age of five.   [3]                                                                                                              Civil societies have led campaigns against arbitrary arrests, detention, and torture exposed human rights abuses by security agencies, including by the Department of State Security Services (DSS) and the Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).[4]

On the 11th of October 2019, the Punch Newspaper reported that the ECOWAS Court indicted the Federal Government over 2018 Benue Mass killings. This judgment was given by a three member panel of the Community Court of Justice ECOWAS with suit number: ECW/CCJ/APP/16/18. The judgment was presided by Justice Edward Asante, President of the Court, Justice Keikura Bangura, and Hon. Januaria Costa.[5]

Between 2018 and 2019 Nigeria has lost millions of human resource to human rights violations both reported and unreported. The above stated scenarios are only a tiny fraction of the reports of human rights violations in Nigeria, as writing about more would turn this piece into a documentary. The list of violations in Nigeria is almost listless and cuts across almost every strata of the society. The government is supposed to be the hope of security for the common man, but today in Nigeria that hope has been shredded in pieces as Nigerians are being violated even in their homes. The apparent case of Nigeria’s hopelessness in tackling human right issues is seen in the plethora of violations by both state and non-state actors.

Article1, 2,3,4,5 and 6 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Right, Chapter 10 LFN 1990 and Chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution enshrine the Protection of the Human Rights of Nigerians. The Federal Government is tasked with the responsibility of protecting the Human Rights of her citizens. It is therefore in the interest of the peace and development of our country that our governments should take up their responsibility of protecting the human rights of her citizens.

 “When the fundamental principles of human rights are not protected, the center of our institution no longer holds. It is they that promote development that is sustainable; peace that is secure; and lives of dignity.” – Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

CAVEAT

Lawyers Alert hereby puts our readers on notice that this article is based on the writers opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of the organization except otherwise stated.

[1] https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/nigeria/62580/eu-annual-report-human-rights-and-democracy-world-2018-country-updates-nigeria_en

[2] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/nigeria

[3] https://www.unocha.org/nigeria/about-ocha-nigeria

[4] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/nigeria

[5] https://punchng.com/ecowas-court-indicts-fg-over-2018-benue-mass-killing/ 

 
 

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COMBATTING GLOBAL RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE

the implementation of Human Rights Council resolution 16/18

by Marc Limon, Nazila Ghanea and Hilary Power

It is almost impossible to turn on the news today without witnessing scenes of hatred, violence and intolerance perpetrated in the name of religion or belief. The march of ISIL across Syria and Iraq, with associated reports of gross and systematic violations of human rights, may be an extreme example of such hatred, but it comes against a background of heightened religious hostility and discrimination in virtually every part of the world. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, violence and discrimination against religious groups by governments and rival faiths have reached new heights in all regions except the Americas. This bleak picture is supported by the findings of the latest report on religious freedom by the US State Department, which concluded that 2013 saw ‘the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory,’ with millions of individuals from all faiths ‘forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs’ in ‘almost every corner of the globe.’

In the face of such trends, it is clear that the fight against religious intolerance and discrimination must be a key political priority for the international community, and in particular the UN and its Human Rights Council.

The main UN global policy framework for combatting religious intolerance, stigmatisation, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief is set down in Council resolution 16/18. Resolution 16/18 was adopted, with much fanfare, in March 2011 and hailed by stakeholders from all regions and faiths as a turning point in international efforts to confront religious intolerance. After more than five decades of failure, UN member states had, it was hoped, at last come together to agree a common, consensus-based approach and practical plan of action.

Almost four years on, and against the aforementioned backdrop of heightened religious hostility, UN consensus around the ‘16/18 framework’ is at breaking point. Rather than working together to implement the 16/18 action plan, states have returned to pre-2011 arguments over the nature of the problem, the correct role of the international community, and whether the solution to intolerance lies in strengthening the enjoyment of fundamental human rights or in setting clearer limits thereon.

These divisions have re-emerged, in large part, because of conceptual confusion among policymakers about what implementation of resolution 16/18 means and what it entails. Linked to (and indeed flowing from) this conceptual opacity, states – especially states from the Western Group (WEOG) and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – argue over whether resolution 16/18 is being effectively implemented or not and, if not, who is to blame.

A new Universal Rights Group policy report aims to help put the 16/18 framework ‘back on track’ by cutting through the political rhetoric to understand the different positions of key actors and how to bridge them, and by providing an impartial assessment of levels of implementation.

Key findings and conclusions in the report include:

* The prevention of discrimination on grounds of, inter alia, race and religion, and the protection of minorities, were two of the four priority human rights issues chosen by member states at time of the establishment of the UN (1946).

* From that time until the early 1960s, the UN’s human rights system addressed racial and religious discrimination/intolerance as joint and interconnected issues. However, in 1962 the UN decided to decouple its consideration of the two discriminations.

* This decision facilitated the rapid adoption of a new UN convention on the elimination of racial discrimination (1965). However, consideration of religious intolerance was shunted to the diplomatic ‘slow lane.’ After long and difficult negotiations, the UN eventually adopted a (soft law) declaration in 1981 – a declaration that, today, is largely forgotten.

* From 1946 to the turn of the century, UN policy to combat religious intolerance was notably ineffective. Yet the international community was at least united around a single approach. That changed in the years after 1999 when deepening OIC concern over Islamaphobia (especially in the context of 9/11), together with a Western shift in emphasis away from combatting religious intolerance and towards promoting freedom of conscience, led to a split in the UN policy architecture – a split that remains with us today.

* Against this unpromising background, in March 2011 a group of four states – Pakistan, Turkey, the UK and the US – tabled a text at the Human Rights Council designed to heal divisions, reconcile the positions of East and West, and lay down a workable plan of action to at last confront and challenge global religious intolerance. That text became resolution 16/18.

* When looking at the implementation of resolution 16/18, expectations of the degree to which it is capable of resulting in policy shifts in UN member states should be tempered by an understanding that the primary political impetus behind resolution 16/18 was international rather than domestic.

* Nevertheless, resolution 16/18, with its in-built action plan and associated implementation mechanism (the Istanbul Process), does provide a useful and, in theory, workable framework for combatting religious intolerance. While it is difficult to identify a direct causal relationship between resolution 16/18 and concrete policy shifts at national level, it is possible to identify a number of domestic improvements in-line with parts of the action plan. A good example is the clear improvement, since 2011, in the speed and sophistication with which political and religious leaders speak-out against acts of intolerance.

* Despite these positive steps, Pew Research Center data shows a significant worsening of levels of religious intolerance in almost every part of the world over the past decade.

* An analysis of the underlying causes of this situation reveals a strong empirical relationship between levels of religious intolerance, levels of freedom of religion and levels of freedom of expression. States that place high restrictions on freedom of religion also tend to place high restrictions on freedom of expression, and in states where both these core freedoms are restricted, incidences of religious intolerance tend, on average, to be far higher.

* However, URG’s analysis also shows that promoting respect for freedom of religion and freedom of expression is not enough on its own. If states are to strike a blow against intolerance, they must also take a range of supplementary (and complementary) steps to strengthen policy (in line with resolution 16/18).

Policy Recommendations
The report ends by proposing a set of recommendations designed to ‘re-energise’ the 16/18 process and thereby strengthen the international community’s ability to effectively respond to rising intolerance and discrimination. Recommendations include:

* States – especially EU and OIC states – should cooperate to dismantle the artificial divide that currently separates the UN’s work on promoting respect for freedom of religion from its work on combatting religious intolerance. In the medium- to long-term, this would mean agreeing on a single, coherent policy covering the mutually interdependent issues of freedom of religion, religious discrimination and religious intolerance;

* Linked with this point, states should avoid a return to the initiative on ‘defamation of religions,’ which achieved little beyond the polarisation of East and West. They should also avoid establishing new instruments or mechanisms on religious discrimination or intolerance in the absence of a solid evidential base showing that such measures would help;

* Because arguments over implementation are central to the current difficulties faced by the 16/18 process, it would be useful for relevant Council mechanisms, especially the Special Procedures, to undertake an independent and impartial analysis of steps taken by states, religious leaders and civil society, together with related best practice;

* Better use can and should be made of the UPR process and Treaty Body dialogues to promote implementation of the 16/18 action plan and to report on progress;

* States should ‘re-energise’ the Istanbul Process by agreeing in advance on a schedule of future meetings – a series that would allow all parts of the 16/18 action plan to be addressed; and

* The format of Istanbul Process meetings should be reformed, so that for each meeting a geographically balanced group of states, religious community representatives and civil society leaders are invited to present information about their national experiences, challenges faced and future plans.

 

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A Rough Guide to the Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is the main intergovernmental body within the United Nations (UN) system responsible for “promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all” and for addressing human rights violations, including gross and systematic violations.

The Council was created on 15 March 2006 by UN General Assembly resolution 60/251 which decided “to establish the Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, in replacement of the Commission on Human Rights”. The Commission had become discredited amid controversies over its membership and perceived politicisation. The establishment of the Human Rights Council was part of a comprehensive UN reform effort by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan outlined in his 2005 report, ‘In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security, and Human Rights for All’. He presented human rights, along with economic and social development and peace and security, as one of three ‘pillars’ on which to base the work of the UN.

The Council, which comprises 47 members apportioned by geographic region, meets for three regular sessions per year (March, June and September) for a total of 10 weeks or more. It can also hold special sessions at the request of any Council member with the support of one-third of the Council membership.

Institution-building package

The Council’s first session took place from 19th to 30th June 2006. One year later, the Council adopted its ‘Institution-building package’ (resolution 5/1) which details procedures, mechanisms and structures that form the basis of its work. Among those mechanisms were the new Universal Periodic Review mechanism, the Advisory Committee and the Complaint Procedure – all of which report directly to the Council. The Council also assumed a number of mechanisms established by the former Commission of Human Rights including the Special Procedures.

Council sessions

Regular sessions of the Human Rights Council (three per year) serve as a forum for dialogue on pressing thematic and country-specific human rights issues facing the international community. A typical session includes a briefing by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on important human rights issues and situations, the presentation of UN reports on human rights promotion and protection, the holding of interactive dialogues with UN Special Procedures (based on their reports to the Council), the adoption ofUPR reports for recently-reviewed countries, panel debates on matters of particular interest or importance, and the consideration (Council members only) of complaints brought to the Council’s attention under the Confidential Complaints Procedure (see below).

The main output of a given Council session is a series of Human Rights Council resolutions drafted and negotiated by States and designed to take forward a particular human rights issue or agenda. Action is taken on such resolutions (adoption by consensus, adoption with a vote, or rejection) at the end of each Council session.

If one third of Council members so requests, the Human Rights Council can decide at any time to hold a Special session to address human rights violations and emergencies (with either a country or thematic focus). Special sessions last for one day and allow States and other stakeholders to hear updates (for example by the High Commissioner, relevant Special Procedures mandate holders or Commissions of Inquiry) and present their views on the issue at hand. The session usually concludes with the adoption of a resolution.

A good summary of the work of the Human Rights Council in a given year can be found here.

Universal Periodic Review

All Council members and other UN member States are required to undergo a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that examines a State’s fulfilment of its human rights obligations and commitments. Each review is an intergovernmental process that facilitates an interactive dialogue between the country under review and the UPR working group, which is composed of the 47 Council members and chaired by the Council President.

During the review cycles, which began in April 2008 and see each State reviewed every four and a half years, the UPR working group makes initial recommendations with subsequent reviews focusing on the implementation of recommendations from the previous review

More information on the UPR Process, including on how to engage with it, can be found here.

Complaint Procedure

The Council maintains a Complaint Procedure that allows individuals and groups to report human rights abuses in a confidential setting. The goal of the procedure is to objectively and efficiently facilitate dialogue and cooperation among the accused State, Council members, and the complainant(s). A working group on communications and a working group on situations evaluate the complaints and bring them to the attention of the Council.

Special Procedures

The Council, like the previous Commission, maintains a system of Special Procedures that includes country and thematic mandates.Country mandates, which normally last for a year and can be renewed, allow mandate-holders to examine and advise on human rights situations in specific countries. Thematic mandates, which normally last for three years and can also be renewed, allow mandate-holders to analyse major human rights phenomena globally. Special Procedure mandate-holders serve in an independent, personal capacity and conduct in-depth research and site visits pertaining to their issue area or country.

There are a number of different types of Special Procedure, with ‘Special Rapporteur’ being the most common. Other types include ‘Independent Experts’, ‘Working Groups’ and ‘Special Representatives of the Secretary-General’. All undertake similar tasks, as set out in the resolution establishing or renewing their mandates, although there are differences in emphasis – for example Independent Experts tend to focus on norm-setting (in the case of thematic mandates) and technical assistance and capacity-building (in the case of country mandates), whereas Special Rapporteurs usually carry out a wider range of human rights promotion and protection activities including norm-setting, country visits and receiving and acting upon individual complaints.

Mandate-holders are appointed by the Human Rights Council upon a proposal of the President of the Council. The President bases his or her proposal on the recommendations of a consultative group (five ambassadors, one from each regional group) and following wide consultations.

More information on Special Procedures, including how to engage with them, can be found here and here.

Five-Year Review

On 17th June 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 65/281, which was the result of a review of the work and functioning of the Human Rights Council after five years (as mandated by General Assembly resolution 60/251).

In the resolution, member States agreed to maintain the Council’s status as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly. They also adopted several procedural changes to the Council’s work, such as moving the start of its yearly membership cycle from June to January (thus moving Council elections from the spring to the autumn), creating an office of the Council President, and establishing future review mechanisms.

 

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Human Rights

 

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