NIGERIA COURT ORDERS LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES TO UPHOLD SEX WORKERS’ RIGHTS

Salc : Anneke Meerkotter

20 December 2019, Abuja – On 18 December 2019, the Federal High Court of Nigeria, Abuja Division, per Justice Nyako, handed down an important judgment on sex workers’ rights to due process at the hands of law enforcement agencies, in the case of CN and 15 Others v Minister of Federal Capital Territory and 5 Others.

The case related to the actions of the FCT Ministerial Joint Task Force, comprising the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, the police and the army. At 11pm on 22 February 2017, the Joint Task Force broke down the doors of the homes of the applicants, assaulted them, indecently searched them, took the money they had on them, and then arrested and detained them. The Task Force justified their actions in terms of section 35 of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board Act, which they alleged permits them to arrest a person selling goods in an unauthorised place.

The Court had to consider whether the manner in which the applicants were treated amounted to a violation of their constitutional rights and their rights under Nigerian law and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Court held that the Task Force’s actions amounted to an infringement of the applicants’ rights to privacy. The Court emphasised that the procedures for effecting an arrest are stipulated clearly in the law and law enforcement agencies must follow it at all times. The Court held that all the parties in the Joint Task Force were liable for rights violations occurring during the operations of the Task Force, as it was a collective action. The applicants were awarded compensation and legal costs.

“The judgment is an important affirmation of our law and the obligation of all law enforcement agencies to act within the parameters of the law and at all times to protect and respect the fundamental rights of all persons,” said Rommy Mom, from Lawyers Alert.

The applicants were represented by Lawyers Alert and supported by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre and Heartland Alliance.

Background

The Abuja Environmental Protection Board has as its legislative aim to conserve the environment, but in practice it has adopted the mandate of “sanitising the city” by targeting street vendors, sex workers, and persons who beg or scavenge. In January 2017, the FCT Ministerial Joint Task Force was established, and has since earned a reputation for brutal repression of marginalised groups within the city. In 2017, the ECOWAS Court, held in the case of Njemanze and Others v Federal Republic of Nigeria, that these systematic sting operations directed against only the female gender furnishes evidence of discrimination. These practices have however continued unabated since the ECOWAS Court’s pronouncement and in April and May of 2019 resulted in a public outcry when hundreds of women were arrested by the Joint Task Force.

For more information contact:

Rommy Mom, Lawyers Alert, rommymom@yahoo.com, +234 803 608 1967

ISSUED BY LAWYERS ALERT AND THE SOUTHERN AFRICA LITIGATION CENTRE