Bundu shooting: ECOWAS Court rejects FG, Rivers’ attempts to block request to call victims to testify

The ECOWAS Court of Justice sitting in Abuja has rejected the arguments by both the Federal Government and the Rivers State Government to block application seeking court’s permission to call victims and witnesses to testify over the ‘shooting and killing by security agents in Bundu waterfront, Port Harcourt.

The ECOWAS Court gave the order yesterday to allow the application for victims and witnesses to testify in the case after hearing arguments from counsel to the governments, and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and ten other plaintiffs.

Earlier SERAP and ten indigenes of Bundu waterfront and neighbouring communities in Rivers State had filed an application pursuant to Article 43 of the Rules of the ECOWAS Court requesting the court’s permission to call victims and witnesses to testify in the case.

But the Federal Government and Rivers State Government objected, arguing that the plaintiffs’ application did “not contain detailed specific information on what each victims and witnesses would say in court.”

In response, the plaintiffs through their counsel Adetokunbo Mumuni leading Sola Egbeyinka said that the requirements of Article 43 had been fully met. They also argued that the governments’ arguments had “no basis as it has not been supported by any counter-affidavit to our application.”

The governments also argued that there was no detailed description of the victims and witnesses and their addresses but the plaintiffs countered by saying that they already filed papers in court justifying that the addresses of the victims and witnesses would not be provided to protect their safety and security.

The governments also argued that the plaintiffs did not sign an Amnesty International’s amicus brief which had earlier been submitted to the court but the plaintiffs countered that “it is no business of the plaintiffs to sign such document since we do not own the document and it was not filed by us.”

The ECOWAS Court after deliberations in chambers for over 45 minutes rejected the arguments by both the Federal Government and the Rivers State government on the grounds that “non-disclosure of addresses for the victims and witnesses does not affect the substance of the application and the interest of justice.

The case is now adjourned to 12 and 13 June 2012 for hearing of testimonies of victims and witnesses.

It would be recalled that SERAP and Israel Okari; Joy Williams; Austin Onwe; Tamno Tonye Ama; Victor Opium; Mark Bomowe; Napoleon Tokubiye; Napoleon Tokubiye; Jonathan Bokoko; Williams Tamuno; and Linus John dragged the governments to the court in 2010.

The Suit Number ECW/CCJ/APP/10/10 dated 29 October 2010, was filed on behalf of the Plaintiffs by Mr Femi Falana. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation; Rivers State governor Rotimi Amaechi; Commissioner for Justice Rivers State; and the Commissioner for Urban Development, were joined as Defendants.

In the suit, the Plaintiffs said that, “the Rivers State government with the support or complicity of the Federal government is planning large-scale demolitions of the city’s waterfront settlements. There are more than 40 waterfront settlements in Port Harcourt and they are some of the most densely populated areas of the city, home to at least 200,000 people.”

According to the Plaintiffs, “The planned large-scale demotions were developed without adequate consultation with affected communities. Njemanze waterfront, a community close to Bundu Ama, was demolished in August 2009 and it is estimated between 13,800 and 19,000 people were forcibly evicted from their homes. Thousands of people, including children, women and the elderly were left homeless and vulnerable to other human rights violations.”

“Also, on the morning of 12 October 2009, government authorities, accompanied by security agents wearing: regular army camouflage uniforms and camouflage head gear; camouflage uniforms and red berets; Mobile Police uniforms, Mobile Police uniforms and ‘RSVG’ flack jackets, Police uniforms and ‘S.O.S./Swift Ops. Squad’ flack jackets, and plain clothes agents wearing ‘JTF’ flack jackets’ – went to Bundu waterfront community to conduct an enumeration and assess the value of building structures earmarked for demolition,” the Plaintiffs added.

“On 12 October a crowd gathered at the entrance to the community, next to the city’s prison, to protest against the enumeration and the proposed demolitions. The protest was peaceful. At around 8.30am, two Mobile Police (MOPOL) armoured personnel carriers approached the entrance of the community and parked next to the prison. At 9am a convoy of approximately 10 police and army vehicles approached the prison junction. A small armoured vehicle leading the convey drove into the crowd,” the Plaintiffs also said.

The Plaintiffs also said that, “Without any warning, the soldiers started shooting. They first fired shots in the air and they drove their vehicles to the end of the road. Members of the community who were leading the protest told people not to run because, at the time, they believed that the government would not shoot to kill. The soldiers started shooting again but this time, they fired shots into the crowd.”

“The protesters tried to run away but they were chased and fired upon by the security agents, who fanned out through the community. Apart from those who were shot in their homes, most people were shot from behind as they ran. As people ran away, members of the security forces followed them into the waterfront, shooting as they went,” the Plaintiffs added.

The Plaintiffs are asking the ECOWAS Court of Justice for the following reliefs:

1. A DECLARATION that the indiscriminate shooting by the Defendants and/or their agents individually or collectively on 12 October 2009 into a crowd of unarmed protesters in Bundu waterfront community to conduct an enumeration and assess the value of building structures earmarked for demolition is unlawful as it is disproportionate and cannot be justified under any circumstances, and therefore constitutes a violation of Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and commitments to ensure the right to protest and demonstrate, guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

2. A DECLARATION that the indiscriminate shooting by the Defendants and/or their agents individually or collectively on 12 October 2009 into a crowd of unarmed protesters in Bundu waterfront community, and the resulting injuries and killing of the inhabitants of Bundu waterfront community, is unlawful as it violates the right to life, and to the security; dignity of the human person, and the right to health, guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

3. A DECLARATION that the indiscriminate shooting by the Defendants and/or their agents individually or collectively on 12 October 2009 into a crowd of unarmed protesters in Bundu waterfront community is unlawful as it resulted in violence, harassment, assault, killing, and other serious human rights violations against the inhabitants of the Bundu waterfront community, therefore constituting a serious breach of Nigeria’s human rights obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

4. A DECLARATION that the failure of the Defendants and/or their agents individually and/or collectively to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the indiscriminate shooting (and the resulting killing and injuries) on 12 October 2009 into a crowd of unarmed protesters in Bundu waterfront community is unlawful as it  breaches the international obligations and commitments of the Defendants to provide an effective remedy to victims of human rights violations, as recognized by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

5. AN ORDER directing the Defendants and/or their agents individually and/or collectively to pay adequate monetary compensation of $100 million (US Dollar) to the 2nd to 11th Plaintiffs for the violation of their human rights the subject matter of this suit, and to provide other form of reparation, which may take the form of restitution, satisfaction or guarantees of non-repetition, and other forms of reparation that the Honourable Court may deem fit to grant.

6. AN ORDER OF INJUNCTION restraining the Defendants and/or their agents individually and/or collectively from implementing any plan to carry out any enumeration in preparation for demolition of structures and properties in the Bundu waterfront community because the implementation of the plan without conforming to the requirements under international human rights law would lead to further violation of the internationally guaranteed human rights of the Plaintiffs and other inhabitants of the Bundu waterfront community.

7. AN ORDER directing the Defendants and/or their agents individually and/or collectively to promote, respect, secure, fulfil and ensure the rights of the 2nd to 11th Plaintiffs and other inhabitants of the Bundu waterfront community who suffered serious human rights violations on 12th October 2009.

 

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