SERAP Asks UN Rights Chief To Hold Special Session On The Situation In Niger Delta
A civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has petitioned the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Navi Pillay in Geneva, requesting her to “urgently hold or facilitate the holding of a special session of the Human Rights Council to address the human rights situation in Niger Delta (south-south zone) in the context of the on-going conflict.”
In the petition dated 25 May 2009 and signed by Solicitor to SERAP, and President West African Bar Association (WABA), Mr Femi Falana, the organization stated that “According to our information, since 13 May 2009, thousands of villagers have been displaced and thousands more are trapped in the cross fire between the Joint Task Force (JTF), which is composed from troops of the army, navy, air force and the mobile police set up in 2004 to restore order in the Niger Delta south-south zone. The JTF attacks on the communities in the area, including the Okerenkoko and Oporoza communities, are continuing on a daily basis, reportedly because they believe the armed groups are hiding in the communities.”
Citing reports by Amnesty International, the organization also stated that “On 15 May, using helicopters equipped with machine guns, the JTF attacked several communities of the Gbaramatu Kingdom, including Okerenkoko and Oporoza. In Oporoza, around 500 people had gathered for a yearly festival that was being celebrated in several communities of the Gbaramatu Kingdom. Hundreds of bystanders, including women and children, are believed to have been killed and injured by the JTF, and by the armed groups, while shooting at the JTF.”
“The indiscriminate military operations by the Nigerian Government have resulted in wide-spread human rights violations against the people of Niger Delta. The victims are now mostly internally displaced, with their homes and other structures totally or partially burned and destroyed,” the organization further stated.
According to the organization, “The Government of Nigeria has international legal obligations to respect the right to life; the right to security of the person; the right to freedom of residence; including not to be forcibly displaced; the right to property; the right to adequate housing; the right to health; the right to adequate food and the right to water; and freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment. All of these internationally recognized human rights would seem to have been violated in the Niger Delta on a widespread scale.”
“Continuing human rights violations in the Niger Delta are exacerbating the under-development, marginalisation and environmental degradation, which have remained a permanent feature of the region for decades,” the organization argued.
The organization also argued that “All the citizens of Nigeria, including those in the Niger Delta region are entitled to live in an environment adequate for their health and well-being. The Nigerian Government has an international legal obligation to protect and improve the environment for the benefit of present and future generations. The protection of the environment is a vital part of contemporary human rights principles, for it is a sine qua non for the enjoyment of human rights such as the right to health and the right to life. As the experience in the Niger Delta has shown, damage to the environment can impair and undermine all the human rights guaranteed in the Universal Declaration and other human rights instruments.”
“It is the failure of the Nigerian Government to exercise due diligence that have resulted in violations of the human rights of citizens by some of the Niger Delta militants, and allowed their operations to flourish. Due diligence obligation requires the Nigerian Government to undertake measures to prevent abuses by non-state actors where possible, investigate violations that occur, prosecute the perpetrators as appropriate, and provide redress for victims,” the organization further argued.
The organization also stated that “The above highlighted serious human rights violations may also amount to crimes against humanity as articulated in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to which Nigeria is a state party. The elements that need to be established to prove a “crime against humanity “under article 7(1)(k) of the Rome Statute are that, the perpetrator inflicted great suffering or serious injury by means of an inhumane act; that the perpetrator was aware of the circumstances, and that the act was committed within a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population; that the perpetrator knew of that link.”
“Holding of a special session on the Niger Delta would contribute to a speedy resolution of the conflict and to peace and greater respect for human rights of the citizens in the region. The Human Rights Council cannot be silent when innocent civilians are caught up in conflicts such as the one going on in the Niger Delta. The international community must strive to deliver justice to victims of human rights violations wherever they occur and ensure that those found guilty of such crimes are held accountable for their actions.The holding of a special session on the Niger Delta will be consistent with the practice of the Human Rights Council regarding its previous special sessions on the Occupied Palestinian Territories; Lebanon; Darfur; Myanmar; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the Global Food Crisis and the Global Economic and Financial Crises,” the organization also argued.
The organization therefore asked the High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently convene or facilitate the holding of a special session of the UN Human Rights Council to:
* Address the responsibility of the Nigerian Government with respect to allegations of serious human rights violations committed in the context of the on-going conflict in the Niger Delta
* Ask the Nigerian Government to ensure a better and healthier environment for Nigerians, including those in the Niger Delta
* Ask the Nigerian Government to provide effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy to victims of human rights violations in the context of the on-going conflict in the Niger Delta
* Ask the Nigerian Government to provide restitution, compensation or both, as warranted, for damages resulting from the serious violations of the human rights highlighted above
* Urge the Nigerian government to fulfil its complementary obligations under the Rome Statute of the ICC to investigate fully, effectively, fairly, independently and impartially and bring to justice those suspected to be responsible for crimes against humanity in the context of the on-going conflict in the Niger Delta. The special session should also urge other states to exercise universal jurisdiction over those suspected to be responsible for crimes against humanity or war crimes committed in the context of the ongoing conflict.
* Ask Nigerian militants to halt further hostilities and attacks.
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