The ECOWAS Court on Thursday delivered its judgment in the case between Dorothy Njemanze and three others versus the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The case centred on the violent, cruel, inhuman, degrading and discriminatory treatment the plaintiffs suffered at the hands of law enforcement agents in Abuja, Nigeria.
The women by name, Dorothy Njemanze, Edu Okoro, Justina Etim and Amarachi Jessyforth were abducted and assaulted sexually, physicaly, verbally and unlawfully detained at different times between January 2011 and March 2013 in the hands of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, AEPB, and other government agencies, such as the police and the military. They were arrested and accused of being prostitutes simply on the grounds that they were found on the streets at night.
In its judgment, the court held that the arrest of the plaintiffs was unlawful and violated the right to freedom of liberty, as the Defendant State had submitted no proof that these women were indeed prostitutes.
The court also found that branding the women prostitutes constituted verbal abuse, which violated the right of these women to dignity. Further, the court held that the arrest violated the right of these women to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and also constituted gender-based discrimination.
The court found that there were multiple violations of articles 1, 2, 3 and 18 (3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; articles 2, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 25 of the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol); articles 2, 3, 5 (a) and 15(1) of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); articles 2(1), 3, 7 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); articles 10, 12, 13 and 16 of the Convention against Torture (CAT); and articles 1, 2, 5, 7 and 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The 1st, 3rd and 4th Plaintiffs were each awarded damages in the sum of N6 million. However, the claim of the 2nd Plaintiff was dismissed for being statute barred under the Protocol creating the court.
It must be noted that this is the first time an international court has pronounced on violations of the Maputo Protocol.
The case was filed on September 17, 2014 and was a joint action between Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, IHRDA, Alliances for Africa, Nigerian Women Trust Fund and the law firm of SPA Ajibade, with support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa, OSIWA.