Nigeria: Civil Society Groups Call on State Governments Not to Resume the Execution of Prisoners

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Nigeria: Civil Society Groups Call on State Governments Not to Resume the Execution of Prisoners

NEW YORK - Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the
Nigerian Bar Association Human Rights Institute and other Nigerian
human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are deeply concerned
by reports of a decision by the Nigerian government to resume the
execution of prison inmates. The reason given by the authorities for the
resumption is to ease prison congestion.

Instead of executing prisoners, the Nigerian authorities should
address underlying problems in the criminal justice system. The
overcrowding is in part due to delays in trials and failure to provide
enough lawyers. Many death row prisoners may be innocent, as Nigeria's
justice system is riddled with flaws and is unable to guarantee fair
trials.

The decision to execute death row inmates to ease prison congestion
was taken at a meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) on Tuesday
15 June 2010. The meeting was chaired by the Vice President of Nigeria
and attended by Nigeria's 36 state governors. Following the meeting, the
Governor of Benue state announced that the Council had asked the
Nigerian state governors to review all cases of death row inmates and to
sign execution warrants as a means of decongesting the country's
prisons. This is the second time in two months that Nigeria's state
governors have considered the execution of inmates to ease prison
congestion. In April 2010, a similar decision was taken in a meeting of
the Council of State, a meeting of the 36 state governors, chaired by
the President of Nigeria.

The resumption of executions is the wrong solution to the problem of
overcrowding. According to Nigeria's Minister of Interior, the total
prison population is 46,000, of which some 30,000 are awaiting trial.
Few inmates can afford a lawyer and the government funded Legal Aid
Council only has around 100 lawyers. Prisons will remain overcrowded
until these underlying problems are addressed.

There are approximately 870 death row inmates currently in Nigeria's
prisons, including women and juveniles. However, weaknesses in the
Nigerian criminal justice system means that hundreds of those awaiting
execution on Nigeria's death rows did not have a fair trial and may
therefore be innocent.

Trials can take more than 10 years to conclude. Appeals in some death
row cases have been pending for a decade. Some appeals never happen
because case files have been lost but the person remains on death row.

Two expert groups set up by former president Olusegun Obasanjo - the
National Study Group on Death Penalty (2004) and the Presidential
Commission on Reform of the Administration of Justice (2007) -
recommended a moratorium on executions because the criminal justice
system can not guarantee a fair trial.

The organisations call on the Nigerian government to establish an
official moratorium on the death penalty as a first step towards
abolition. By declaring a formal moratorium on executions, the Federal
Government of Nigeria would be exercising important leadership on the
issue of the death penalty in line with the global trend towards
abolition. A moratorium on executions requires a commitment by all
Nigerian authorities not to carry out executions, regardless of whether
death sentences have been passed. A moratorium would eliminate the risk
of executing the innocent as well as prisoners who have not yet
exhausted their right to appeal.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Nigerian Bar
Association Human Rights Institute and other Nigerian human rights
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) oppose the death penalty in all
cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the
characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill
the prisoner.

Background

Under international human rights law, the death penalty must not be
imposed for crimes committed by people below 18 years of age and people
charged with capital crimes are entitled to the strictest observance of
all fair trial guarantees.

In November 2008, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
at its 44th Ordinary Session in Abuja, Nigeria, adopted a resolution
calling on state parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples'
Rights to observe a moratorium on the death penalty.

In December 2007 and 2008, the UN General Assembly also adopted two
resolutions on the use of the death penalty calling upon states that
still maintain the death penalty to progressively restrict the use of
the death penalty; reduce the number of offences for which it may be
imposed and establish a moratorium on executions with a view to
abolishing the death penalty.

While Nigeria did not adopt an official moratorium on executions, the
Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs stated in February 2009 at the 4th
Session of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that
Nigeria has a "self imposed moratorium."

In 2006, at least six death row prisoners were executed without ever
having had an opportunity to appeal their death sentence. They had been
tried and convicted by Robbery and Firearms Tribunals under the
jurisdiction of the military.

Any step by the Nigerian government, state or federal, to resume
executing will be contrary to commitments made by Nigeria at
international level.

Signed:

Access to Justice (AJ)
Amnesty International (AI)
Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD)
Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR)
Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS)
Human Rights Social Development Environmental Foundation (HRSDEF)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law
(Intersociety)
Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP)
Legal Resources Consortium (LRC)
Nigeria Humanist Movement
Nigerian Bar Association Human Rights Institute (NBAHRI)
Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF)
Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA)
Social Action (SA)
Social Justice Advocacy Initiative (SJAI)
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP)

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