GENEVA (15 November 2021) –The Federal High Court of Nigeria has rendered justice to six women who were arbitrarily arrested and detained during raids of the suspected sex work venues and subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment in the hands of the authorities, UN experts* applauded today.
“The recent ruling of the Court awarding damages and issuing an injunction against the enforcement authorities represents a victory for women’s human rights and the rule of law,” the experts said. “It enforces international human rights standards and challenges the impunity of State and local authorities for violations of the human rights of sex workers.”
The six women were among the over a hundred women and girls who were rounded up in raids by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, police and other law enforcement agents in April 2019 in an anti-prostitution drive. They were kept in detention arbitrarily and in humiliating conditions, without access to family and legal presentation, and physically and mentally abused by the police, including being raped.
The just published Court ruling states that the arbitrary arrest, beating and molestation, and illegal detention without legal representation of the six women constituted a violation of their rights as guaranteed under the Nigerian constitution, including the right to freedom from discrimination.
The experts submitted amicus curiae briefs in February 2020 highlighting relevant international human rights standards and Nigeria’s obligations. They pointed out that detention on discriminatory grounds, such as sex and gender, is arbitrary and so is detention on the basis of vague and overly broad laws. They further noted that laws targeting sex work are based on patriarchal moral standards about women’s sexuality, are enforced disproportionately against women and facilitate systemic violence against them, including sexual violence by police and other actors. International human rights standards call for decriminalisation of sex workers. “The criminalization of sex workers places them in a situation of injustice, vulnerability and stigma and is contrary to international human rights law,” the experts reiterated.
“The judgement will have a lasting impact in preventing the reoccurrence of such raids and abusive disregard of women’s rights,” the experts said. They also praised the role played by civil society organizations and the National Human Rights Commission in defending the rights of these women.
Melissa Upreti (Chair), Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Vice-Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Ivana Radačić, and Meskerem Geset Techane, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Ms. Elina Steinerte (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Vice-chairperson), Ms. Leigh Toomey, Mr. Mumba Malila, Ms. Priya Gopalan, Working Group on arbitrary detention
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