A right and accountability group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP, has petitioned five United Nations human rights activists to stop the execution of 54 Nigerian soldiers who were sentenced to death by the Nigerian military authority.
In a petition to the five UN right experts dated 23rd of December and made available to PREMIUM TIMES, the Executive Director of the group, Adetokunbo Mumuni, urged the experts to use their position to halt the execution of the soldiers.
Mr Mumuni said, “It is not right or fair to try everyone in mass proceedings, and that such unfair trial should not send someone to the gallows. Imposition of mass death sentences is in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nigeria is a party. This Covenant limits the circumstances in which a state can impose the death sentence.”
The five special rapporteurs are Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Juan Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Pablo de Greiff, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Mads Andenas, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; and Ben Emmerson, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
SERAP urged the Special Rapporteurs to individually and jointly “Publicly express concerns about the mass imposition of death sentences on the soldiers; express concerns about the lack of clarity of the charges under which each of the soldiers was sentenced to death.
The experts were also urged to “request the Nigerian government and its military authorities to quash the 54 death sentences imposed on the 54 soldiers for failing to meet even the basic requirements of fair trials; Declare that the imposition of mass death sentences on the soldiers makes a mockery of justice”.
It also wants the expert to “Continue to follow closely the situation and remind the Nigerian authorities of the need for the Nigerian society to be based on justice, and full respect of human rights; Request the Nigerian authorities to exercise their legal authority to commute the death sentences and pardon the 54 soldiers;
Request the Nigerian authorities to impose moratoriums on executions and pave the way for the full abolition of the death penalty”.
The petition, which was also copied to Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that, “Under international law, cases involving capital punishment such as the present one require the full and scrupulous respect of the guarantees of highest standards of fairness, due process and justice.”
“All human rights depend for their enjoyment the right to life, which is the most fundamental of all rights. The right to life symbolizes everything that the United Nations works and stands for, be it in the area of peace and security, development or human rights. To reject the act of irreversibly taking someone’s life is to embrace belief in human progress and dignity”.
SERAP argued that the imposition of mass death sentences is unjust and incompatible with fundamental human rights. It said the UN General Assembly, which Nigeria is a member, has called for a worldwide moratorium on execution.
The organization maintained that the UN has also acknowledged the discriminatory and arbitrary nature of judicial processes and the danger of the death penalty being used as a tool of repression.
Defending the action of the soldiers, SERAP said
“the issues raised by the soldiers suggest lack of transparency, accountability and general deficiencies in the way the security budget and arms purchases are decided and controlled”.
On Wednesday December 17 2014, the Nigerian Army’s 7 division General Court Martial convicted 54 soldiers for conspiracy to commit mutiny and sentenced them to death by firing squad.
The soldiers, from the 111 Special Forces, were charged for disobeying a direct order from their commanding officer, Timothy Opurum, a Lieutenant Colonel, to take part in an operation to recapture Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa in Borno State from Boko Haram terrorists on August 4.
SERAP claimed that the United Nations human rights experts are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council of the UN Human Rights.