Good morning, and thank you for coming.
In the twenty years since the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was created, this is the first time any High Commissioner has visited Nigeria. I am grateful to the Government for inviting me.
This is a very important country, with easily the largest population in Africa, big ambitions and huge potential. On the international level, Nigeria has been playing an increasingly significant role in the Human Rights Council in Geneva and is currently a member of the Security Council. It can, and I believe should, play an even more significant role on the international stage in the years to come, and its embrace of human rights will be a major element in deciding its future course both internally and internationally.
Since Nigeria’s transition to democracy, much has been achieved on the human rights front. At the same time, with a fourfold increase in the size of the population over the past fifty years, widespread poverty, an increasingly brutal conflict in the north east, sporadic violence in the middle belt and rising crime in other parts of the country, Nigeria is currently facing its most daunting set of challenges for decades.
During this visit, I have been particularly struck by my interlocutors’ openness and frankness on most issues during my meetings with Government, judiciary and parliamentarians, as well as with the National Human Rights Commission and civil society organizations.
I was received by the First Lady shortly after my arrival. Subsequently, I held in-depth discussions with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Justice, and the National Security Adviser. I also met with senior officials at the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Ministry of Interior and the Deputy Inspectors General of Police; and held substantive and informative discussions with the Chairs and other members of the Committees on Human Rights, Justice and Legal Matters in the National Assembly. This morning, I met with the Chief Justice, and hope to end my visit with a meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan, after he arrives back in Abuja later today.
I have also been briefed extensively by the National Human Rights Commission, and taken on board the views of a large group of the country’s leading civil society organizations – who, in Nigeria as elsewhere, play an exceptionally important role on the human rights frontline. I was also heartened to meet a group of celebrities – famous Nollywood actors and directors, as well as footballers – who told me they were committed to lending their star power and influence to promote human rights across the land.
Nigeria has ratified all nine of the core international human rights treaties. In order to have a real impact on the lives of ordinary people, international treaties must also be fully reflected in national legislation, and the national legislation must then be fully observed and implemented by the authorities at all levels. For this reason, the main focus of my visit has been on filling gaps and addressing systemic malfunctions.
As the global human rights review system, known as the Universal Periodic Review – or UPR – has shown very clearly, no country in the world has a perfect human rights record, and Nigeria is no exception.
During its second review under the UPR last October, Nigeria received 219 recommendations from other states, and immediately accepted 175 of them. It will give its response on most of the remainder later this month. Many States were concerned about torture, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial executions – in particular in relation to the military and security forces’ operations to combat Boko Haram in the North East. Since arriving here, I have learned that, for the first time, there is an Anti-Torture Bill before the National Assembly. I have also been heartened to learn that the problematic Police Force Order 237, which gives police too much latitude to resort to lethal force, is being reviewed. I will be watching the progress of these important legislative initiatives closely and urge both the House of Representatives and the Senate to ensure their swift passage, and their absolute compliance with international laws and standards.
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