The current imbroglio between the Nigeria Police and the country’s human rights boss, Chidi Odinkalu, has become a major topic at the on-going conference on African Human Rights taking place in Banjul, the Gambia.
The Chairperson of the African Commission on Human Rights and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), Dupe Atoki, brought to the notice of the international delegates present in Banjul, what she termed “harassment and intimidation” of Human Rights chiefs in some specific African countries.
Naming Nigeria, Togo, and, Malawi, Ms. Atoki, who said these countries are hampering the work of the Human Rights chiefs, bemoaned the interference of the different states in the activities of the African Commission.
“Interference in the effective functions of NHRIs (National Human Rights Institutions) is commonplace and the ACHPR continues to receive reports in that wise,” she said. “A very recent report was also received on the 13th of April 2012 of an alleged invitation of the chairman of the Nigeria Human Rights Commission for interrogation by the Nigerian Police for a statement he made on extra judicial killings by Nigerian Police, which is alleged to be injurious to the reputation of the Nigeria Police Force.”
According to Ms. Atoki, Mr. Odinkalu has said, through his attorney, that he would not be honouring the invitation by the Nigeria Police, except that the visit would not be done on the date specified by the police.
The ACHPR chairperson identified the financial dependence of the human rights institutions on the various states as the main cause of the unavoidable interference from the said states.
“A large number of African NHRIs continue to struggle with independence from their governments,” she said. “This non-independence has resulted in few African Institutions with A status classification by the International Coordinating Committee.
“Particular importance is attached to the need for adequate funding to allow for financial independence that guarantees the overall freedom to determine priorities and activities. However, financial independence in the face of interference in the work of NHRI by home governments clearly undermines the expected independence,” she said.
Ms. Atoki took a swipe at the states even as she mentioned that in the case of Togo, the harassment from the government led to the forced relocation of the human rights boss, who had to take refuge in France.
“Independence is the attribute that most clearly underpins a national institution’s legitimacy, credibility, and hence its effectiveness,”
Ms. Atoki said. “This must be guaranteed at all times and state parties must provide the enabling environment for the effective functioning of the institutions they have created in response to their obligation under The Charter,”
The Workshop for African NHRIs on reporting processes to the African regional human rights mechanisms continues till Wednesday, April 18, in Banjul, the Gambia.