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UN AND AFRICAN COMMISSION EXPERTS ON SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS CONCERNED OVER REMOVAL OF HEAD OF NIGERIAN RIGHTS BODY

Geneva and Banjul, 28 June 2006

The Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, and the Special Rapporteur of the African Commission for People and Human Rights on Human Rights Defenders, Reine Alapini-Gansou, issued the following statement today:

The Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, and the Special Rapporteur of the African Commission for People and Human Rights on Human Rights Defenders, Reine Alapini-Gansou, express their profound concern at the removal of Bukhari Bello as Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria on 19 June 2006.

The experts fear that Mr. Bello’s removal was occasioned because of his public statement of the critical stance taken by the National Human Rights Commission on a number of human rights issues. The experts have received information indicating that Mr. Bello has been targeted by the Government following his statement at the thirty-ninth session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, press statements and media appearances criticizing the failure of authorities to respect human rights and the rule of law.

The Special Representative and the Special Rapporteur find that the removal of Mr. Bukhari Bello represents a reprisal for his critical work in the defense of human rights as Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission. The experts regret this form of interference with the work of the National Human Rights Commission that can only result in undermining its independence and obstructing its work for the protection and promotion of human rights.

They, therefore, urge the Government of Nigeria to take all measures that are necessary to restore confidence of the Commission in the guarantee of its independence and freedom to perform its essential functions. In this regard they also urge all authorities and officials to refrain from any action that infringes on this independence.

The experts remind the Government of its responsibility under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms to guarantee the freedom of expression and the freedom from fear of retaliation for all those acting in defense of human rights.