Nigeria: Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights on death row for abortion and consensual sex

Amnesty International is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and is particularly concerned that the application of the punishment in Nigeria is discriminatory. Some of the categories of crime that carry the death penalty - in particular abortion-related offences and 'sharia' crimes of sexual impropriety - are those with which Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are more often charged.

Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights also have difficulty in getting a fair trial for these offences, and poorer Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights who are illiterate and unmarried or divorced are particularly vulnerable to prosecution for these crimes and to being sentenced to death.

Nigeria's Penal Code and Criminal Code make capital offences of murder, armed robbery and 'culpable homicide', a charge most often brought against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights for procuring or having an abortion. In Nigeria early and forced marriages are common, Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights have on average more than five Children's rights in their lifetime and the infant mortality rate is the third highest in the world.

A woman sentenced to death for 'culpable homicide' under the Penal Code, told Amnesty International delegates:

'I had a baby but the baby died. The foetus was only eight months old. My husband had divorced me. When I was questioned at the police station I said the baby was stillborn. In court, I pleaded for myself. The court asked 'Did you murder this child?', and I replied 'No'. A doctor looked at the dead baby. He said it was stillborn. He told the police but was never called to court to witness. I have been in detention and prison for over 10 years.'

Under the Sharia Penal codes introduced in 12 northern states in Nigeria since 1999, the crime of 'zina'- sexual relations outside marriage ? carries a mandatory sentence of flogging if the convicted person is unmarried and death by stoning if married. The offence of zina falls outside the category of 'most serious crimes' for which the death penalty can be applied according to international human rights law, to which Nigeria is a state party.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'Our view is that no one should suffer the pre-meditated cruelty of the death penalty. The prescribing of the death penalty for 'zina' crimes also violates the right to be free from discrimination and the rights to free expression, free association and the right to privacy. Nobody over the age of consent should be charged or convicted for having consensual sex.'

The Amnesty International report raises grave concerns over Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights suffering unfair trials before death sentences. Many poor Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights have no representation in court, can be held on remand for long and indefinite periods before trial, and in sharia trials the standard of evidence can be different for men and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights. Rules of evidence under sharia penal legislation discriminate against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights because the mere fact of being pregnant is taken as evidence of having performed the act of zina; whereas a man on trial for this offence, and who denies the charge under oath, is often acquitted unless four witnesses are produced to confirm his involvement in the act.

When sentenced Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are often kept in prison awaiting execution for up to 10 years, in conditions that often constitute inhuman and degrading treatment.

Kate Allen concluded:

'The law in Nigeria endorses an unequal relationship between men and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, and gives men power over Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, denying them their reproductive rights and the right to exercise control over their own sexuality.'

Amnesty International welcomes the Nigerian government's decision to set up the National Study Group on the Death Penalty, with a mandate to make recommendations to the Federal Government on the status of the death penalty by June 2004. It is hoped the National Study Group will incorporate abolition in its final recommendations.

Background

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from 1999 permits the application of the death penalty. According to Amnesty International's information, Nigerian courts have handed down at least 33 death sentences since 1999. As of July 2003 there were 487 people on death row; 11 of these are Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights.

Death sentences can be imposed under both the criminal law system (the Penal Code and the Criminal Code) and the 'sharia' penal system. Under criminal law it is applicable for criminal offences such as murder, culpable homicide, robbery and treason. The offence of culpable homicide is applied in some cases for abortion-related offences under the Penal Code and disproportionately affects Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights.

Since 1999, 12 states in northern Nigeria have introduced new 'sharia' penal legislation. Under these, the application of the death penalty has been extended to offences such as zina, rape, incest, and 'sodomy' as defined in sharia penal codes. A person who has committed zina is defined by these penal codes as: 'whoever, being a man or a woman fully responsible, has sexual intercourse through the genital [sic] of a person over whom he has no sexual rights and in circumstances in which no doubt exists as to the illegality of the act.' Zina is only an offence for Muslims.

Amnesty International neither supports nor opposes any religion or belief. However, the organisation strongly opposes any legal system, whether based on religious beliefs or not, that violates international human rights law and standards.

The recent increased national and international interest in the death penalty in Nigeria resulted in President Obasanjo initiating a parliamentary debate on the death penalty. As part of this debate, the National Study Group on the Death Penalty was inaugurated on 13 November 2003. It is expected to make recommendations to the Federal Government at the end of its mandate in June 2004.

For the full report in English, please go to: http://www.web.amnesty.org/library/index/engafr440012004

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