A French organisation, Avocats Sans Frontieres France (ASF France), has called for clear and effective regulations to protect Nigerian citizens from human rights abuses related to torture by security agencies, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killings.
The group made the call on Tuesday at a conference marking the end of Strengthening the National Actors Capacity and Advocating for Ending Severe Human Rights Violations in Nigeria (SAFE) Project.
Funded by the European Union in Nigeria and Agence Francaise de Development (AFD), the intervention was aimed at strengthening the capacity of national actors to address core human rights issues pertaining to torture, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary detentions.
The SAFE project was implemented in partnership with Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and Carmelite Prisoner’s Interest Organisation (CAPIO).
The project seeks to contribute to the efficient application of internationally recognised human rights by ensuring the defence of all persons deprived of free and independent legal counselling, said Ruben Aguilera of the European Union delegation to. Nigeria.
ASF France said human rights violations, especially extrajudicial and arbitrary killings in Nigeria are well documented. But more concerning is “disappearances and arbitrary detentions; torture, particularly in detention facilities, including sexual exploitation and abuse; use of children by some security elements.”
Between June 2019 and November 2022, the group said it identified 167 cases for pro-bono legal aid of which 120 were approved for litigation and 47 were approved for legal advice.
These are cases of victims of torture, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killings across Lagos, Enugu and Kaduna states, Angela Iwuchukwu, the country director of ASF France said.
“The Nigerian justice system is under-resourced and riddled with delays,” Ms Iwuchukwu added. “Prisons are overcrowded; the majority of inmates are pre-trial detainees; some are held for many years without trials. The judicial system is highly defective especially due to impunity and the disrespect of fundamental principles of a fair trial.”
About 73 per cent of the 64,642 prison population as of December 2020 were awaiting trial, according to the prison data anonymously released to PREMIUM TIMES by prison officials.
Ms Iwuckukwu said leaving people awaiting trial for an “unduly prolonged period” is a “gross injustice and violation of human rights.”
Since the inception of the SAFE project in 2019, the group said they have sought to defend all persons whose fundamental rights are threatened and who are deprived of a free and independent defence, as well as human rights defenders who are threatened because of their commitment or their profession.
The NBA said together with ASF France, they participated in the implementation of legal aid and judicial systems in order to bring the protection of the law to the most vulnerable people where it does not exist: “provision of legal services (mobile or sedentary consultations), strengthening of judicial systems, awareness-raising among the population and judicial actors.”
While acknowledging the fact that a lot of work still needs to be done in the areas of torture and extrajudicial killings, the group said significant progress has already been made so far.
“We will not say that human rights violations have reduced but in terms of redress, victims have been able to get redress under this system.”
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