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Makurdi 29 March 1 April 2006 - Letter by Geoffrey Care

MAKURDI 29 MARCH 1 APRIL - Letter by Geoffrey Care

At the invitation of the State University of Benue at Makurdi in Nigeria I addressed a public Lecture of some 300 staff, students and others on 29 March 2006.

My topic was "Migrants and the Rule of Law - where do the Courts of Africa Stand?"

I also addressed 17 Judges and senior judicial staff of the Benue State High Court at the invitation of the Chief Justice The Hon.Mr Justice Hwande at an interactive session on 31st March- followed by an excellent lunch of egusi.

My topic was the same for the judges as that for the University but the emphases in each case were different.

Makurdi lies on the Benue above its confluence with the Niger and about 3 hours by road from the capital Abuja, about 4 hours from Jos (where I was the first head of the Law Department of the University of Jos 28 years ago) and 7 hours from Port Harcourt. I say specifically by road since the City is no longer served by any air flights.

In the case of the University I dwelt on the need for the universities to give more attention to the issues of refugees and displaced persons under the two conventions operating on the continent (Articles 1 and 2 of the AU Charter of 1969) which incorporates the Geneva Convention and the much wider provisions of displacement internally or externally for reasons of civil wars and natural disasters: Very similar to the Cartagena Agreement. I suggested that more academics specialising in this area on the continent were needed and one looked to them to ensure that practitioners were adequately instructed to enable them to represent clients, before both the domestic courts and the very numerous regional and community courts and tribunals as well as the African Court of Human Rights.

When addressing the judges I laid emphasis on the need for an awareness of the Conventions, both international and regional, decisions by relevant courts and tribunals on the African Continent and elsewhere, and important writings, the different standards of proof and approach to the evidence especially factual information.

One judge expressed some doubt as to the extent to which courts other than the Federal courts have jurisdiction in such matters but the Federal Chief Justice said he was mistaken. Decisions by the African Court of Human Rights and many regional courts(and Tribunals such as in ECOWAS)are binding on domestic courts.

As I mention below Internal displacement is a hot potato resulting from the flood from neighbouring Nigerian State( Nassarawa) who are still languishing in camps in and around Makurdi.

Judges in other States also said they had a frequent diet of various types of human rights cases.

Many of the judges expressed the wish to join the IARLJ and I have sent them membership forms.

The questioning was intensive and acute especially for judges who have had no exposure to this jurisdiction. Questions addressed whether our UK decisions are reasoned and reported - and where are those reports to be found. The implications of particular social group A question which drew applause for my answer from the men and wry amusement from the women was whether FGM could amount to persecution and if so would forced male circumcision also amount to persecution.

The judges were concerned about refugees who committed criminal offences whilst in Nigeria or serious crimes abroad. Exclusion and cessation came up for discussion and, in relation to the former, both at the University and the judges were interested in the other topical issue of Charles Taylor. This gave rise to a number of questions which needed delicate handling as it was so political. A Judge (who had been an unsuccessful candidate for appointment to the African Court of Human Rights) had decided recently that he was not a refugee.

Security and porous borders with the consequent lack of any effective control came up at both my addresses. What some found surprising was that countries like the UK found such difficulty in removing those whom the courts had decided were not entitled to remain.

The judges were curious to know how one could transparently decide who fell within a convention and who did not. Where were country background information to come from and how, in the absence of any specialist tribunal, judges would deal with a case on Judicial Review. They agreed emphatically that information from any government source was likely to be biased!

I made considerable play on the need for harmonisation and why. One Judge asked how, in the absence of an International Tribunal or Court this was truly realistic? This gave me the opportunity to refer to our President's Paper at Stockholm.

What I found interesting was the nature of the political questions (and statements) made to me. Both at the University and with the judge's feelings of resentment at the Western world's attitudes with regard to displacement of people in the |Continent still run deep. The questions all were rooted in the view that the West was applying double standards. First they themselves came to Africa - took wealth (and its valuable artefacts) and having got them they now shut their borders the better to keep that wealth. They saw this to be an unwillingness to share any burden at all. Linked to this was the West did little or nothing to encourage eradication of the root causes of refugees on the Continent. They were all thinking of the supply of arms to regimes which had no need of them except to repress their own people.

One judge took a light-hearted note on what he clearly saw as a grievance that they should all come and "recolonise" (I think he meant) the UK!

Benue still suffers from a displacement internally from Nassarawa in 2003/4 many of whom remain here in camps. The Speaker of the National Assembly had said the week before at a Public Meeting that Nigeria had over 1,000,000 DPs and refugees many living in squalid circumstances.

What is often not understood in the West is that internal displacement can often be little different from someone who crosses a political border. In the Nassarawa exodus most were of the same tribe (Tivi) as the dominant tribe in Benue but from an adjacent state so they were less unwelcome, but in Nigeria as in most of Africa, when it comes to effective relocation it is often in practice impossible even to survive. The nearest European parallel is the displacements and repatriations post the demise of the USSR . But even there I don't know to what extent relocation would lead to hardships so severe as to amount to an inability to survive. .

The bulk of the caseload for judges in the State are land disputes including such issues as building encroachment as well as criminal cases. Many of these are armed robbery for which the penalty id death.

My talk obviously excited considerable interest as it was on the radio and I was interviewed in a weekly "Personality of the Week" programme for 60 minutes!

I took the opportunity to introduce the Manual produced by a team led by Professor Chaloka Beyani " A guide to the use of the African Human Rights system in the protection of Refugees" A man who would be able to make a significant contribution to our Conference in Mexico - since what he is writing about concerns almost identical provisions the AU Charter and the Cartagena Agreement.

The Chief Judge in Rivers State was very interested in the Mexico Conference and hearing more and suggested that we write to the FCJ about it.

I followed this advice when I did see Chief Justice Uwais in Abuja a few days later. He received the whole idea very well, as ked me to arrange a letter to him and said he would inform the Judges at their biennial All Nigeria Judges Conference in June.

If there was one single area in our field of operations which seems to be of general daily concern it was the problem of Trafficking - especially in women and children but also I suspect in other forms of trafficking too. There are Government Hoardings all over warning the public and condemning the practice.

Geoffrey Care
Shetland
April 2006.

 

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