The Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Dr. Solomon Dersso has commended the National Human rights Commission of Nigeria (NHRC) for the “enormous work and leadership” which it has exhibited in the realisation of its mandate of protecting and promoting human rights, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chairperson made this remark in Banjul, the Gambia in response to the Statement by the NHRC on the State of Human Rights in Africa at the on-going 66th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The statement which was presented by Mr. Tony Ojukwu, the Executive Secretary of NHRC chronicled the work of the NHRC in integrating human rights into the national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Ojukwu noted that “the pandemic has disrupted social and economic foundations of the society upon which the enjoyment of fundamental rights as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights are based.”
In response to the pandemic and the restrictions introduced by national and state authorities in Nigeria, the NHRC set up mechanisms to monitor human rights violations and receive petitions from victims and human rights defenders. He noted that in a six-week period from April to May 2020, the NHRC received 231 cases of human rights violations. These cases included: “extra-judicial killings, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, violation of right to freedom of movement, unlawful arrest and detention, unlawful seizure/confiscation of properties, extortion, sexual and gender based violence to discrimination in the distribution of COVID-19 related relief items.” The NHRC issued three reports on human rights violations which were presented to the Government, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Law Enforcement agencies and civil society organisations.
The Commission during this period also applied its normative and rule-making mandate to issue guidelines and advisory opinions to national and state governments on protecting the human rights of vulnerable groups in the COVID-19 response. These include: The Standard Minimum Guidelines for Human Rights of COVID-19 Patients in Treatment Centres in Nigeria and the Advisory Opinion on the Protection of the Rights and Dignity of Almajiri Children in COVID-19 Response. According to Mr. Ojukwu, “these pieces of human rights norms have become best practices which different countries and organisations are now adapting to secure the human rights of the most vulnerable populations in the formulation and implementation of programmes as part of the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Mr. Ojukwu informed the regional human rights body that the restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an upsurge in cases of rape and other sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Nigeria. The NHRC in response initiated “a nationwide advocacy week of action which mobilised all stakeholders including the governments at national and state levels, the National and State Assemblies and law enforcement agencies to respond to the rising cases of SGBV in Nigeria.” The campaign recorded immediate success with the passage in the National Assembly of an amendment to the Criminal Code Act of 2004 and the passage of a Bill to “Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions and for Matters Concerned Therewith.”
Mr Ojukwu on behalf of the Commission and Nigeria commended the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the occasion of the 66th Ordinary Session and reaffirmed the commitment of the Commission as an ‘A Status’ National Human Rights Institution to continue to work for the advancement of human rights in Nigeria.