Saturday, 21 April 2012

Protection of Women’s Human Rights in Nigeria through Regional Charter on Human Rights

The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which was adopted by member nations of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in June 1981 in Nairobi, Kenya, is a practical response to the human rights concerns at the time on the African Continent. The African Charter is said to be the most
comprehensive and innovative of all regional human rights instruments. Unlike others, this charter in a single document, covers civil and political rights on the one hand and economic, social and cultural rights, on the other hand. The so-called third generation rights, collective or group rights were also incorporated. The charter is also said to be so different from other Regional charters because it deals with the responsibilities of the individual to the family, community and nation. This is in line with the traditional communal life of the African society. However the Charter does not address issues of women’s rights in a comprehensive manner thereby failing to meet with contemporary challenges facing women. Consequently to meet the gaps there is in existence a Draft Protocol to the African Charter relating to women’s Rights initiated by the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights in collaboration with Non Governmental Organisations such as WiLDAF. The Protocol is in the process of negotiations for adoption by the African Countries comprised in the OAU now African Union (AU).

The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights has been made part of the Nigerian Law by virtue of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Act (Cap 10: Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990).

It is obvious that some of these rights are already in the Nigerian Constitution but even if they were not, they would be available to all citizens, both women and men, because the charter is now part of Nigerian law. The application of the African Charter to a domestic case was tested in the case brought by Gani Fawehinmi (a lawyer) against Sanni Abacha the then Nigeria Military Head of State where the Court decided that the African Charter is part of the laws of Nigeria and domestic law of the land.

The African Charter can be used as a tool to defend the Rights of women guaranteed by the Charter even where the local laws are silent or against discriminatory practices and customs.

It is important to understand the provisions of the African Charter and its implications on the rights of women.

The African Charter has 68 Articles, four chapters and could be divided into three parts: Part one dealing with the rights and of the Individual, Part two with family and people’s rights and the third Part with duties of individuals.

Articles 3-17 are the combination of civil and political rights economic, social and cultural rights. The rights guaranteed are:
Equality before the law and equal protection under the law – Art 3
Inviolability of human beings – Art 4
Respect for human dignity, recognition of status and prohibition of slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and treatment – Art 5 Right to liberty and security – Art 6
Right to fair trial – Art 7
Right to participate freely in government – Art 13
Right to Property – Art 14
Right to work under equitable and satisfactory condition and equal pay for equal work – Art 15
Right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health – Art 16
Right to Education and Freedom to take part in the cultural values of the society – Art 17.

Art .18 provides for the elimination of discrimination against women and for the protection of the rights of women and children as stipulated by international conventions. The rights of the aged and the disabled are also included.

This provision in effect means that all International Conventions providing for the protection of women and children automatically apply in Nigeria. Although this has not been tested in court for interpretation, the Article nonetheless means that women would be automatically protected by all the international Conventions and Declarations, which protect women and children whether or not Nigeria signed it.

Article 18 is useful for Police, Lawyers, Magistrates and Judges as a tool for enforcing all International Instruments for the protection of women’s rights.

The rights protected under this category include: -
Equality of all peoples (Art 19)
People's right to existence, right against foreign domination and to assistance for liberation (Art 20)
National and International peace and security (Art 21)
General satisfaction in an environment favourable to development (Art 24)

Articles 27-29 spell out the duties of individuals. These include
Towards the family, society, state and other legally recognised community (Art 27) Respect for fellow human beings without discrimination Safeguarding mutual respect and tolerance.

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