Term Paper: International Protection of Human Rights

Pages: 17 (6410 words)  ·  Style: Harvard  ·  Bibliography Sources: 12  ·  Topic: Literature - African  ·  Buy This Paper

Human Rights Violations in Nigeria: An Assessment of the Procedures and Strategies for the International Protection of Human Rights

As the world moves towards a global conscience, it is becoming increasingly clear that those nations that would abuse the doctrines of human rights as acknowledged in the international arenas, and by most of today's nation-states, and certainly by world public opinion will soon be forced to the answer to the global conscience. That is, they will at some future date consistent with the expression of global public opinion be held accountable for acts of aggression arising out of political or religious or economic expansionism. Already the response to these acts of aggression by the international communities in the various forums of the United Nations (UN), the European Union Court and other fronts is debate and attempts to negotiate an atmosphere of calm in which to resolve international differences.

Chief among the issues receiving international political and public attention are human rights violations. Human rights violations brought international pressure and public opinion to bear upon the Apartheid government of South Africa, and, subsequently, over a period of time, political change was realized in that country as a result of world scrutiny and opinion. Today, Nigeria is one country, among many others, which stands accused of human rights violations (Kamminga 1992; Amnesty International 2008). Most notably in the foreground is Nigeria's illegal incarceration of its citizens without charging them for committing a crime, providing them a trial or legal representation, and secretly executing prisoners (Amnesty International 2008). Many such executions are alleged to be a result of the government's efforts to protect its foreign corporate investment relationships in Nigeria's rich natural resources by eliminating voices of opposition that call attention to environmental or political injustices (Livesey 2001 58).

Chief amongst such cases is that of Ken Saro-Wiwa, who, on November 10, 1995, was taken from is prison cell by military personnel acting on behalf of the government (Wiwa 2001 xi). Saro-Wiwa's son, Ken Wiwa (2001) writes that his father was taken to a military prison where, after five attempts, was finally successfully hanged to death (Wiwa xii). Saro-Wiwa had a trial (Wiwa xii), unlike many of those imprisoned in Nigerian jails go to prison and remain imprisoned without a trial (Maier 2000 3). Saro-Wiwa's trial was deemed a miscarriage of justice, and world condemned as such by humanitarian groups and world leaders (Wiwa xii; Jega 200 97).

Writing about the illegal imprisonment of people who speak out against the government, Karl Maier (2000) writes:

Among the victims were the Ogoni rights activist and playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa, who had been hanged, and retired General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, a political power broker who had died after receiving a mysterious injection in prison. The leading political figures of the day were held incommunicado. They included Chief Moshood Abiola, the Muslim millionaire whose election as president in 1993 was halted by the military despot Babangida, and Obasanjo, the only soldier who had ever handed power to an elected civilian. Nigeria, many feared, would explode into a civil war that could spark a humanitarian disaster (Maier 3)."

Nigeria has been consistent in protecting its position from its vantage point of its United Nations seat. Nicholas Wheeler (2002) exemplifies this use of UN protection when he points out in his book when he discusses the situation that lead to genocide in Rwanda:

In the absence of Western intervention, the only alternative was for African states to take the lead. In its Presidential Statement of 30 April the Security Council had requested the Secretary General to investigate this possibility. In response to Boutros-Boutros Ghali's requests, Ghana, Ethiopia, Senegal, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Congo, Mali, and Malawi came forward with offers of troops for phase two of the deployment of UNAMIR II. In doing so they made it clear that they would need equipment, heavy lift support, and their costs underwritten by the UN. Given the UN's budgetary crisis, financing UNAMIR II depended upon Western states (Wheeler 229)."

What this shows is that leadership in African nations which stand accused of human rights violations are slow to reaction to those conditions in their neighboring African states. It shows, too, that the African states are willing to use public opinion as a means of extorting money from western nations in order to respond to humanitarian issues such as was going on in Rwanda. In other words, the well being of their citizens and African neighbors are weighed against the profit that can be gained from exploiting the very citizens of their country as a natural resource to gain humanitarian dollars. No economic venture is closed to the corrupt and powerful leaders that would circumvent the laws and judicial process in order to benefit from that circumvention.

The Story of Ken Saro-Wiwa

The story of Ken Siwo-Wiwa is one of an activist, a man who posed a threat to the forces that would treat the citizens of Nigeria as perhaps too simplistic in thinking to be aware of what is going on around them. Saro-Wiwa was an educated man, a wealthy man, whose wealth did not overshadow the pride nor the love he felt for his country and for his people. His father, Ken Wiwa writes, was the product of a British classical colonial education (Wiwa 19). Siwo-Wiwa was also a journalist, and a successful entrepreneur (Wiwa xi). His own colonial experience and education left him keenly aware of the motivation behind foreign interests in Nigeria, and prepared him to be able to impart his knowledge and understanding to his fellow Nigerians and to provide them leadership (Wiwa 19). Wiwa was capable of providing the leadership that his fellow Nigerians needed, because the powers of government had, in a post-colonial environment aligned themselves with whatever interests served to benefit the powers in control on an individual level. It was clear that the interests of the Nigerian people and Nigeria as a nation had been subordinated to individual interests within the country, and to foreign interests outside the country which would support the government so long as natural resources continued to exist for exploitation (Livesey 58).

Attahiru Jega describes Nigeria's post colonial economic environment as having been hard hit by the transition away from colonialism, and in a "comatose state (Jega 2000 204). However, others perceive the post colonial period very differently, suggesting that the governmental leaders withheld from the Nigerian people the fruits of commerce and industry (Wiwa xiv). Wiwa says that Nigeria ought to be the economic pride of the black man (Wiwa xiv). It is rich in natural resources (Wiwa xiv). Prior to its emancipation from colonial control, oil was discovered in the Niger Delta region, where the exploitation of oil since 1960 has brought in $600 billion in oil revenues (xiv).

Nigeria has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world and external debts of $40 billion. Most depressing of all is that, unlike many oil-rich nations, Nigeria has little to show for its wealth. Its infrastructure is prehistoric, overwhelmed, and poorly maintained. Many of the roads are potholed death traps, and the telephone system is notoriously inefficient, almost useless by Western standards. There are frequent power shortages and virtually no running water... Schools and universities are under funded and in a state of permanent neglect; teachers and lecturers are poorly paid, if on time. Nigerians routinely die of treatable diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, while AIDS and stress-related illnesses stalk the collective health of the nation. Most hospitals would be best described as mortuaries; simple and routine operations are often a matter of life and death. Infant mortality is among the highest in the world, and life expectancy is only fifty-four and falling. Life in Nigeria is nasty, brutish, and short, as my father often used to say (paraphrasing Hobbes) (Wiwa xiv-xv)."

When taken into consideration with other segments of the picture coming from Nigeria, such as its response to the UN's request for African intervention in Rwanda that evoked a response equivalent to intervention for dollars. We see that the implication here is that the government is corrupt, withholding from Nigerians revenues that would greatly improve the lives and opportunities of Nigerians. It is out of this thought that Ken Saro-Wiwa's voice rose to lead the Ogoni people in standing up for their rights to their natural resources and as citizens of Nigeria. It was the voice, once counted amongst the elite, that now spoke up for the disenfranchised that resulted in the arrest of Saro-Wiwa (Wiwa 34-60).

As is often the case, a government that holds the people's hero hostage must either release that hero, and succumbs to the ideologies that the hero expresses, as was the case with Nelson Mandela in South Africa. or, the government must eliminate the hero and in so doing hope that the ideologies of the hero dies with him or her. Such was the case with Ken Saro-Wiwa who was hanged with eight fellow activists by the Nigerian government… [END OF PREVIEW]

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