The Office of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary or Summary Executions, Mr. Christof Heyns has stated that “appropriate action including communication to the government of President Goodluck Jonathan is being considered regarding the imminent execution of 54 soldiers in Nigeria.”
This followed a petition submitted to Mr Heyns by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in December 2014 in which the group asked five UN human rights independent experts to individually and jointly use their “good offices and positions to urgently request the Nigerian government and its military authorities not to carry out the mass death sentences imposed on 54 Nigerian soldiers for what the government claimed was disobeying a direct order from their commanding officer.”
The development was disclosed by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni in a statement dated 4 January 2015.
According to Mumuni, “SERAP has been in discussion with Johel Dominique at the Office of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions both on the telephone and via email. Johel Dominique has confirmed that the Special Rapporteur is considering appropriate action to avert the imminent execution of 54 soldiers on death row in the country. We have also confirmed to the Special Rapporteur that SERAP has the consent of Mr Femi Falana, SAN, the legal counsel to the 54 soldiers to file the petition.”
“SERAP welcomes the decision by Mr. Christof Heyns to intervene in the matter. Given his longstanding human rights commitment and achievements, we have absolutely no doubt that Mr Heyns will work assiduously to ensure that justice is done in this matter and we wish him well as he strives to do that,” Mumuni stated.
It would be recalled that SERAP had in a petition dated 23 December 2014 and addressed to five special rapporteurs stated that, “It is not right or fair to try everyone in mass proceedings, and that such unfair trial should not send someone to the gallows. Imposition of mass death sentences is in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nigeria is a party. This Covenant limits the circumstances in which a state can impose the death sentence.”
The five special rapporteurs are: Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Juan Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Pablo de Greiff, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Mads Andenas, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; and Ben Emmerson, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
According to SERAP, the courts-martial held in secret were “a mockery of justice” and ignored issues raised by the condemned men that “suggest lack of transparency, accountability and general deficiencies” in the handling of the security budget and arms purchases.
The petition copied to Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also stated that, “Under international law, cases involving capital punishment such as the present one require the full and scrupulous respect of the guarantees of highest standards of fairness, due process and justice.”
“All human rights depend for their enjoyment the right to life, which is the most fundamental of all rights. The right to life symbolizes everything that the United Nations works and stands for, be it in the area of peace and security, development or human rights. To reject the act of irreversibly taking someone’s life is to embrace belief in human progress and dignity,” SERAP also argued.
According to the organization, “The imposition of mass death sentences is unjust and incompatible with fundamental human rights. The UN General Assembly to which Nigeria becomes has called for a worldwide moratorium on execution. In fact, the Special Rapporteurs have pointed stated that the right to life is a fundamental right, not a toy to be played with.”
The organization stated further that, “The UN has also acknowledged the discriminatory and arbitrary nature of judicial processes and the danger of the death penalty being used as a tool of repression. It has documented evidence to show that the death penalty is no deterrent, stressing that “depriving a human person of his or her life is incompatible with the trend in the twenty-first century.”
It would be recalled that on Wednesday December 17 2014, the Nigerian Army’s 7 division General Court Martial convicted 54 soldiers for conspiracy to commit mutiny and sentenced them to death by firing squad. The facts of the case indicate that the soldiers, from the 111 Special Forces, were charged for disobeying a direct order from their commanding officer, Timothy Opurum, a Lieutenant Colonel, to take part in an operation to recapture Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa in Borno State from Boko Haram terrorists on August 4.
The United Nations human rights experts are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.