NIGERIA: WARNING OVER SHARIA COURTS AFTER SAFIYA HUSSAINI ACQUITTAL

However, following reports that an Islamic court in Bakori, Katsina State, northern Nigeria has sentenced another woman (identified in reports as Amina Lawal) to death-by-stoning for adultery as recently as last Friday, the two organisations warned that the implementation of new Sharia-based penal codes since January 2000 is leading to 'serious violations of human rights principles and international law.'

The two organisations, which have recorded an increase in the number of people sentenced to death, flogging or amputation by Sharia courts in northern Nigeria, have today issued a ‘joint concerns' document. These concerns include:

· The imposition of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments · A failure to meet fair trial standards · Discrimination on the grounds of gender · Discrimination on the grounds of social status · Lack of judicial safeguards even when imposing the death penalty

Amnesty International and BWHR are urgently concerned that Nigeria is currently in breach of several international legal standards, including those relating to the avoidance of discrimination against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, the elimination of torture and key fair trial provisions.

The two organisations are also concerned that the rights of those tried under Sharia law are 'clearly protected to a lesser extent' than for non-Muslim people (as under the Penal Code for Northern Nigeria), particularly concerning the right of representation, the right of appeal and the lack of knowledge of criminal procedure by the courts.

Amnesty International and BWHR now urge the Nigerian federal authorities to guarantee the constitutional right of appeal for all those condemned under Sharia-based penal codes, ensuring that they are able to appeal to higher jurisdictions not only at state level but also at Federal level.

JOINT CONCERNS:

Amnesty International and Boabab for Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights's Human Rights (BWHR)'s main concerns regarding the extension of Sharia law in northern Nigeria 25 March 2002

1. Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments Punishments such as stoning, flogging or amputation are considered cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by international human rights standards. By ratifying the Convention Against Torture in June 2001, the Federal Republic of Nigeria agreed not to apply such punishments. Since 2000, amputation and flogging have been carried out in several states of northern Nigeria. Safiya Hussaini's sentence of death-by-stoning has focused international attention on the issue.

2. Failure to meet international standards of fair trial Amnesty International and BWHR are concerned that Sharia courts may fall short in guaranteeing the right of representation. This is particularly serious for cases where the death penalty and other irreversible punishments can be imposed. Safiya Hussaini did not benefit from full legal representation in her first trial, when she was sentenced to death.

3. Discrimination on grounds of gender Under the Maliki school of thought, which dominates the interpretation of Sharia in northern Nigeria, pregnancy is considered sufficient evidence to condemn a woman for Zina, an offence that is to be read as adultery or as voluntary premarital sexual intercourse. The oath of the man denying having had sexual intercourse with the woman is often considered sufficient proof of innocence unless four independent and reputable eye-witnesses declare his involvement in the act of voluntary sexual intercourse. Safiya Hussaini was sentenced to death in her first trial for adultery on the basis of her pregnancy.

Based on the cases of Bariya Ibrahim Magazu and Safiya Hussaini, Amnesty International and BWHR emphasise that Sharia law as practised in the northern states of Nigeria does not protect Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights from possible sexual assault and coercion, instead effectively punishes the victims of such assault. In both of the above cases the court did not pursue allegations of coercion. The clear implication is that men are able to violate and rape girls and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights with impunity as long as they make sure that there are no witnesses to their crime. On the other hand, Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and girls who are victims of rape or coercion have their situation further compounded. There is a risk that they will be subjected to charges of Zina and false accusation. This clearly violates Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights's rights, justice and security while protecting men who harass, molest and rape Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and girls.

4. Discrimination on grounds of social status Observation of cases tried by Sharia courts in northern Nigeria over the past few months shows that the convicted are often from deprived background. This has been true of Safiya Hussaini.

5. Lack of judicial training of Sharia court judges The criteria for appointing judges do not fulfil international standards of training for judicial personnel. In the case of Safiya Hussaini, a lower court handed down the death sentence. The court in question did not have penal jurisdiction before the introduction of the new Sharia-based penal codes. Judges are frequently the same and have rarely received adequate training to judge criminal matters.

6. Procedure of application of death penalty The new Sharia Penal Codes allow Sharia courts, often only consisting of one judge and having no guarantees for adequate legal representation, to impose the death penalty. Under the Penal Code of Northern Nigeria and also the Nigerian Criminal Code applicable in southern Nigeria, cases attracting capital punishment could only be tried by the State High Court.

Amnesty International is categorically opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances on the grounds that it represents the ultimate violation of the right to life guaranteed by international law. In Nigeria the death penalty has been introduced for offences – such as adultery - previously not punishable by death. Moreover, when the accused was not of Muslim faith, similar offences were not considered criminal offences and were not punishable at all. Amnesty International emphasises that the United Nations ‘Safeguards guaranteeing the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty' requires that in countries which maintain the death penalty it should only be used for most serious crimes - offences which are intentional and with lethal or other extremely grave consequences. The act of consensual extramarital sexual intercourse does not fulfil these conditions.

7. Discrimination on grounds of faith Amnesty International also underlines that in all criminal cases in which Sharia law is applied in Nigeria there is discrimination on grounds of faith of the accused. The rights of those tried under Sharia law are clearly protected to a lesser extent than the Penal Code for Northern Nigeria, valid for non-Muslim people, particularly concerning the right of representation, the right of appeal and the lack of knowledge of criminal procedure by the Court. Under Sharia law, the death penalty is applied for offences that are not punishable with the death penalty under the Penal Code for Northern Nigeria.

8. International standards Amnesty International and BWHR remind the Nigerian authorities that in all the above points the current practice and many regulations in the new Sharia Penal Code and Sharia Codes of Criminal Procedure violate many international human rights instruments ratified by Nigeria, including the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

9. Right of appeal Amnesty International and BWHR urge the Nigerian federal authorities to guarantee the constitutional right of appeal for all those condemned under Sharia-based penal codes, ensuring that they are able to appeal to higher jurisdictions not only at state level but also at federal level.

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