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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review


9 February 2009 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record

· The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Nigeria this afternoon, during which 60 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

· This afternoon, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Cuba, following the review of the country on Thursday, 5 February.

· Presenting the national report of Nigeria was OJO UMA MADUEKWE, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who noted that in preparation for its review, Nigeria conducted a truly broad national consultation and held a National Consultative Forum in Abuja on 3 and 4 November 2008 at which every spectrum of society was invited. As indicated in the national report, with over 140 million people, Nigeria was the most populous country in Africa. The country had over 250 ethnic groups, was multi-religious and multi-cultural. It was also noted that Nigeria was under military regime for a greater part of its existence as a sovereign State. Nigeria’s political structures and civil institutions were still evolving. There was a strong commitment on the part of Government to steer the country on the path of sustainable democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. It was also noted that on 19 January 2009 President Yar’Adua signed the instruments of accession to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families; the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; and the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. In addition, Nigeria has now ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Responding to a series of questions posed ahead of the reviews, the head of delegation noted that, although Nigeria operated a tripartite legal system – Common Law, Sharia, and Customary Laws - the 1999 Constitution was the supreme law of the land, he added. Furthermore, sentences imposed on the basis of any of the three legal systems were appealable up to the Supreme Court which was the highest court of the land. As to Sharia law, the application of the Sharia was never a problem in Nigeria, until between 2000 and 2003 when some Courts in the States that had adopted the legal system tried to apply the Sharia punishment of amputation for stealing and stoning for adultery. These sentences were, however, quashed by the Sharia Court of Appeal. In over 100 years of the application of Sharia Law in Nigeria, only one person, who refused to appeal against his sentence, had his hand amputated for stealing. No person has ever been stoned to death. On the issue of the death penalty, it was noted that the death sentence was a valid part of Nigerian Law and there was no reason for Nigeria to carry out "secret executions" as has been alleged. With regard to a moratorium on death penalty, though Nigeria voted against it in the UN General Assembly resolution, Nigeria continued to exercise a self-imposed moratorium. With regard to the allegation of extra-judicial killings by members of the Nigerian security forces, the Federal Republic of Nigeria has never, and will never, condone a policy where members of its security forces deprive any human being of his life.

On the question raised regarding the strategy of the Nigerian Government for the security, governance and development of the Niger Delta, the situation in the Niger-Delta had two dimensions – the political, and the criminal, he affirmed. The political angle has to do with the legitimate demands of the people of the Niger-Delta, for greater benefit from the oil resources of their region. The Government has started to address some of these demands more seriously, as evidenced by the recent creation of the Ministry for the Niger-Delta. The criminal aspect relates to the action of the group calling itself the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND). The Federal Government had to deploy a Military Joint Task Force to restore law and order. To address the economic, social and political demands of those living in the Niger-Delta, the Government has created a Ministry for the Niger-Delta. To tackle the problem of overcrowded prisons, the Federal Government has embarked on the construction of 47 new prisons, and 24 have already been completed.

The biggest challenges facing Nigeria were in the areas of improving the wellbeing of millions of its children, tackling the socio-economic, health problems and cultural practices that put women at a disadvantage, the Minister stated. With regard to the prevention, treatment and elimination stigmatization for people living with HIV/AIDS, there was a continuous drop in the HIV prevalence rate in Nigeria, from 5.8% in 2001 to about 3.1% in 2007. With respect to inter-religious tensions in Nigeria, regular consultations with religious, traditional and faith-based organizations were being intensified in order to create a greater sense of tolerance among all Nigerians.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the enactment of a national plan of action on human rights; the democratic transition of the country since 1999 from a military regime; the progress made towards achieving the MDGs; efforts to protect the rights of persons living with HIV/AIDS; steps taken to uphold the rights of children; advancements made in the areas of health and education; progress made in combating poverty; the establishment of an inter-religious national council; efforts to training prison staff on human rights matters; the creation of programmes to reintegrate and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking and efforts to combat such crimes; and the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission. Several States expressed appreciation to Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi of Nigeria for his able leadership role as current President of the Human Rights Council.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to, among other things, the measures being taken to incorporate principles of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; concrete steps and obstacles in combating human trafficking; efforts made by the Government to deal with harmful traditional practices; measures intended to eliminate female genital mutilation; the main priorities regarding the empowerment of women; measures in place to provide access to justice and remedy for female victims of violence; policies in place or planned to enhance gender equality; steps envisaged to address the high maternal mortality rate in the country; efforts to increase children’s’ school enrolment rates; measures taken to ensure that all babies are registered at birth; steps taken to combat poverty; concrete steps taken to combat HIV/AIDS; and best practise in achieving the MDGs and, in particular.

Other issues and questions pertained to the relationship between the Government and the National Human Rights Commission; progress being made as a result of the current legislative process; steps being undertaken to improve the situation of journalists and human rights defenders; follow up measures to the visits and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings; initiatives to be taken to ensure that acts of torture and ill-treatment by police officers or other law enforcement agencies were promptly investigated; the inter-communal violence between Christian and Muslim mobs that erupted in Jos in November 2008; plans to address the environmental challenges in the Niger Delta and the ongoing debate of ensuring economic, social and cultural rights; and plans and measures to prevent kidnappings of foreigners in the Niger Delta.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: to pursue efforts to implement the recommendations of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; to ratify the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child; to allocate adequate human and other resources to strengthen the fight against human trafficking; to continue efforts to combat human trafficking; to strengthen efforts to aimed at eliminating harmful traditions practices which harmed women and children; to enact legislation to prohibit female genital mutilation and to continue awareness raising campaigns to eradicate such practices; to pursue efforts to ensure its existing legislation fully complied with the Convention on the Rights of the Child; to establish effective mechanisms and implement specific legislation to prohibit violence against women; to intensify efforts to eliminate gender-based discrimination; and to accelerate the process of passing into law the various rights-based Bills before the National Assembly in order to provide broader scope of protection for vulnerable members of society, especially women, children and the disabled.

Other recommendations included: To ensure that the political, social and economic rights of minority groups in the Niger Delta were respected; to take further steps to address discrimination against minority and vulnerable groups; to establish a national minority commission and to set up a policy for the promotion and protection of minority languages; to ensure the adequate political participation of ethnic minority groups as well as measures to effectively prevent the loss of land, property and resources of ethnic minority groups; to take steps to ensure that economic, social and cultural rights were enforceable rights; to take further measures to bolster the national health system; to step up efforts to raise awareness of and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and provide adequate treatment and alternative care opportunities for children; to develop a national strategy to guarantee better access to education to all children; and to continue to invest in education in order to reduce the illiteracy rate further, especially among girls and young women.

Delegations also recommended that Nigeria establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty; to adopt legislative measures to prevent and prosecute acts of torture and other ill-treatment, according to international standards; to formulate a specific technical assistance request to the OHCHR on the access to justice and training of law enforcement on human rights matters; to fully investigate abuses of extrajudicial killings and torture and ensure that perpetrators were duly punished; to create a board of independent inspectors examining conditions in detention facilities and the behaviour of police officers; to ensure that all detainees were tried without undue delay or freed if no accusation was made; to improve prison conditions; to speed up the judicial reform process; to continue efforts to combat all forms of corruption; to take a broad approach to improve the prison infrastructure, to improve legal representation of prisoners, and ensure separate detention facilities for persons under the age of 18; to tackle the backlog of prisoners who have been detained without trial; to ratify the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; and to continue its efforts to promote good governance and the rule of law.

Other recommendations called on Nigeria to share its experience in the field of human rights bearing in mind the fact that the Government had been promoting human rights under special circumstances as a country in transition from a long period of military rule to a fully fledged democracy; extend a standing invitation to United Nations Special Procedures; guarantee the independence of the National Human Rights Commission; ensure the National Human Rights Commission was fully independent of the Government and given the mandate to investigate extrajudicial complaints regarding human rights violations; share its experiences in promoting human rights through its role as promoter of regional cooperation and development and mediator in conflict resolution and peace building in West Africa; ensure freedom of expression was respected and that Nigerian journalists could conduct their work without being harassed; to make greater efforts to bring more awareness to religious leaders on human rights; that the President of Nigeria and National Assembly not approve the Same Gender Marriage Bill and eliminate all existing legislation that discriminated based on gender and sexual orientation; to take urgent steps to prevent politically motivated and sectarian as well as religious-based violence; and continue measures to promote inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue.

· Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Senegal, Ghana, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Angola, Cuba, the Netherlands, France, Ukraine, Pakistan, Mexico, Qatar, Bahrain, Germany, Canada, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Azerbaijan, China, Italy, Djibouti, Malaysia, Burkina Faso, Argentina, the Republic of Korea, Mauritius, Slovakia and India.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Morocco, Côte d’Ivoire, Venezuela, Sudan, Portugal, Mozambique, Vietnam, Belarus, Iran, Libya, Chad, Sweden, Turkey, Austria, Belgium, Uzbekistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Norway, Benin, New Zealand, Yemen, Tunisia, Niger, Denmark, Poland, Ireland, Finland, the Holy See, Nepal and Botswana.

· The 21-person delegation of Nigeria consisted of the representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Office of the Solicitor-General of the Federation, the Ministry of Justice, the Nigeria Prisons Service, the Police Headquarters, the Office of Secretary to Government, the Ministry of Women Affairs, the Ministry of Labor, the Office of the Director of the Millennium Development Goals Office, the Office of the Attorney General, Ahmadu Bello University and the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Nigeria are Japan, Djibouti and Switzerland.

· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Nigeria can be found here.

· Adoption of report on Cuba: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Cuba are Gabon, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Uruguay. Introducing the report ALEJANDRO ARTUCIO RODRIGUEZ (Uruguay) after dictating some oral amendments to the draft report of the Working Group, thanked the delegation of Cuba for the professional and constructive manner in which they approached their UPR. Representing the State under review, MARIA ESTHER REUS GONZALEZ, Minister of Justice of Cuba, said her country would continue to work to strengthen and refine the UPR mechanism. The majority of the recommendations made in the report were acceptable, another 17 would be further considered and only some recommendations were opposed to, which ran counter to the right to the self-determination of the Cuban people. Cuba was committed to cooperate with United Nations’ human rights machinery, and in particular the Human Rights Council and the UPR mechanism.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Nigeria on Wednesday, 11 February. 

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Mexico after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of Saudi Arabia.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx. To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp.

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