Posted by FROM LEMMY UGHEGBE (ABUJA) on
Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria have petitioned the United Nations High Commission, requesting it to suspend Nigeria from the membership of the newly inaugurated United Nations Human Rights Council UNHRC over the sack of the Executive Secretary of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Mr. Bukhari Bello without recourse to due process....
Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria have petitioned the United Nations High Commission, requesting it to suspend Nigeria from the membership of the newly inaugurated United Nations Human Rights Council UNHRC over the sack of the Executive Secretary of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Mr. Bukhari Bello without recourse to due process.
Speaking with journalists, the Director of Africa Programme at the Open Society Justice Initiative, Associate Professor Chidi Odinkalu said: "All the acts for which the government claims to be unhappy with Bello fall firmly within the scope of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and were authorised by the council of the commission".
The Co-ordinator of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, Mr. Musa Rafsanjani, said: "It is the role of the Attorney-General and Justice Minister to enhance the protection of human rights and the work of the National Human Rights Commission. This Attorney-General has chosen instead to undermine the commission. He has acted as persecutor, Pontius Pilate, and executioner. He demeans the office of Attorney-General and uses the name of the president to justify the exercise of powers he does not have."
They all called on the remaining members of the commission to resign their appointment in the interest of their integrity.
Already, one of the commissioners and wife of Nigeria's erstwhile Chief Justice, Mrs. Maryam Uwais has resigned as a member of the commission.
"This attempt to sack Bello is obviously meant to intimidate the Council of the National Human Rights Commission", added, Mr. Titus Mann, President of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO).
Mr. Chinonye Obiagwu, co-ordinator of the Legal Defence and Aid Project (LEDAP), said, "This is not just an issue about Bello. It is about the rule of law, due process, and proper governance. If we allow this to go unchallenged, it is going to be a return to anarchy."
Also speaking at the conference, Dr Nana Tanko, the executive director of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, said that her organisation would withdrawal all its financial support to the commission if government refused to reinstate Bello.
The Guardian gathered authoritatively that the issues raised in the petition written under the aegis of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, endorsed by about 30 Civil Society groups and addressed to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mme Louise Arbour, has been fixed for consideration at the inaugural meeting of the UNHRC.
The petition dated June 21, 2006 reads thus:
"We write as representatives of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Nigeria to bring to your attention serious violations of the Paris Principles in relation to the independence and integrity of Nigeria's National Human Rights Commission. We set out the facts of these violations below as well as the details of our requests to the High Commission. In particular, we hereby transmit to the High Commissioner a request for the suspension of Nigeria from the membership of the newly inaugurated United Nations Human Rights Council.
"On Monday, 19 June 2006, Nigeria's Justice Minister, Mr. Bayo Ojo, purported to terminate the appointment of the Executive Secretary (and Chief Executive Officer) of the NNHRC, Mr. Bukhari Bello. In sacking the Executive Secretary, the Justice Minister alleged that the President of Nigeria was unhappy with him and had instructed the termination of his appointment for three reasons, namely:
* recent press briefing by the Executive Secretary criticising numerous incidents of harassment and intimidation of journalists by Nigeria's internal security agencies;
* a statement read by the executive secretary at the 39th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in May 2006, in his capacity as Chairperson of the Co-ordinating Committee of African National Human Rights Institutions and on their behalf, condemning sit-tight African leaders and denouncing the practice of procuring tenure extension through constitutional amendment as an unconstitutional change in government;
* a recent statement by the executive secretary reiterating the position of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility was incompatible with the obligations of the United States of America under international law to ensure protection of human rights, and should be closed.
Mr Bello was re-appointed in 2005 to a five-year term as Executive Secretary of the NNHRC.
"In taking this decision, the Justice Minister did not notify or consult with the chairperson or other members of the council of the National Human Rights Commission. On Monday, 19 June, the chairperson of the commission, Honourable Justice F. Igu, promptly visited the Justice Minister to protest this interference in the independence of the NNHRC and to affirm that the allegations on the basis of which the Attorney-General claimed to have acted fell firmly within the remit of the Executive Secretary and were done at all times on the instructions of the Council of the NNHRC.
"Principle 3(a)(iv) of the Paris Principles, A/Res/48/138, requires the establishment of National Human Rights Commissions for the purpose of 'drawing the attention of the government to situations in any part of the country where human rights are violated and making proposals to it for initiatives to put an end to such situations and, where necessary, expressing an opinion on the positions and reactions of the government.' Quite clearly, the Nigerian government removed the Executive Secretary from his position because he was diligent and conscientious in holding the government accountable for human rights violations.
"Principle 6 of the Paris Principles requires governments to 'ensure a stable mandate for the members of the national institution, without which there can be no real independence.' In Article 26 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which is domestic law in Nigeria, the government of Nigeria undertakes to 'guarantee the independence of appropriate national institutions entrusted with the promotion and protection of the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Charter.' In terminating the appointment of the Executive Secretary for the diligent execution of his remit, the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria manifestly undermines stability of tenure of the members of the Commission, compromises the Commission's institutional efficacy and independence, and subverts the protection of human rights in Nigeria.
"Quite clearly, the Nigerian government has chosen to compromise and subvert the independence of the Commission in breach of the Paris Principles. On behalf of Nigeria's civil society, we hereby request the High Commissioner to:
(a) Urgently transmit a request to the Nigerian government to respect the independence and impartiality of the members and institution of the NNHRC.
(b) Authorise joint mission of investigation of the independence of national institutions for the protection of human rights, including the judiciary and the NNHRC - by the Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and to issue a public report on the findings.
(c) Pending the report of the investigation, urgently request the Nigerian government to suspend action on the removal of the Executive Secretary of the NNHRC.
(d) In the event of non-compliance with the request of the High Commissioner, suspend further co-operation with the Nigerian government except for technical assistance for the purpose of restoring full respect for the independence and impartiality of the Commission.
(e) Offer technical assistance to the Nigerian government in re-constructing the institutional independence of the Commission and in assuring non-repetition of interference with the Commission's independence; and
(f) Place the situation with the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission on the agenda of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
"We place ourselves at the disposal of the High Commissioner in following up on our petition and will be delighted to meet with you and other members of your staff to supplement the contents of this Communication."
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