Some participants and speakers at the International Human Rights Day Summit 2022 recently.
Stakeholders in the legal profession have decried the decreasing number of human rights activists among lawyers.
This was disclosed at the International Human Rights Day Summit 2022 organised by Human Rights Committee, Lagos Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
At the summit, tagged: ‘Respect for Human Rights: A Panacea for Peaceful Coexistence and Generational Equity’, Professor, Public Law, Akin Ibidapo-Obe, said that every lawyer has a role to play in the promotion of human rights, adding that judges and magistrates are first lawyers, so they need to be human rights sensitive in performing their duties.
While noting that lawyers are at the centre of human rights activism, the erudite scholar pointed to a research by Human Rights Watch, which said six out of seven lawyers are human rights activists. But he lamented there has been a serious decline in the numbers.
“Lawyers have always been rights activists and advocates, but nowadays, they seem to be losing steam and focus. We must be sensitive to human rights issues and keep fighting this course. Human rights must be at the centre of every lawyer’s endeavour,” he said.
He emphasised the importance of making human rights courses compulsory in the universities.
Vice chairlady, Human Rights Committee, Mrs. Abiye Tam George, noted that this year’s summit was a product of an intentional fact finding and result oriented activity to first unravel the root causes of the deliberate human rights abuses experienced by lawyers and citizens, and to formulate creative strategies that are solution based.
While calling for the end of every form of human rights abuses, she stressed on the need to sustain the struggle for respect for human rights, and promotion of peaceful coexistence.
Justice, Taiwo O. Taiwo (rtd.), said a sound human right judgment is dependent on not only the judges thoughts and perception, but also an objective rather than subjective approach or consideration of the verifiable facts as presented before the court to offer justice to the wronged.
“The judgment of a court may be sound in the view of the judge, but it may not meet the aspiration of the person who lost in the suit or the appellate courts that may not see the judgment as sound for various reasons. The bottom line in any judgment is the attainment of justice for the aggrieved,” he explained.
According to him, a good judgment must exhibit good command of the language of the court, which is English as no lawyer/judge can succeed on a limited command of English because a language that effectively communicated and easily understood, is key to delivering a sound judgment.
“As we all know, words are the lawyers’s tool of trade. Since judgments are a permanent record for posterity, the poverty of the language in which it is written will affect the reputation of the writer decades after it was written. It must also be noted that a succinct or concise judgment is desirable.
“However, judgments in fundamental right cases must not be brief, especially if it must capture all the issues raised by the parties before the court,” he advised.
Taiwo noted the need to focus more on doing substantial justice and not technical justice especially in human rights cases.
“A judge must be eagle-eyed in fundamental rights cases notwithstanding the importance of the rights of the individual. The security agencies must comply with the law of the land, especially the Constitution, which every public servant or officers including judges have sworn to defend and uphold,” he said.
He stated that while on the bench, he observed that police officers who have been sued for fundamental human rights violation do not enter appearance nor do they file counter-affidavit in response to an allegation of infringement of the fundamental rights of an applicant.
He urged the force to rethink this process because it evades accountability on the account of the individual officer reported to have committed the offence.
Chairman, NBA, Lagos Branch, Ikechukwu Uwanna, said that dignity, freedom and justice are very fundamental to human existence and relevant to crafting any sustainable nation.
According to him, section 3 (11) of the constitution of the NBA makes this provision as one of its aims and objectives, which are the “promotion and protection of the principles of the rule of law and respect for the enforcement of fundamental rights, human rights and people’s rights.”
President, Woman Arise, Nigeria Unite Against Terror, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, called for collaboration with all relevant stakeholders to fight against human rights abuses.
“We must all join hands to make Nigeria a country that uphold justice, fairness and equity. I call on all civil society groups to cross-fertilise ideas and cross-implement transformations that guarantee human rights protection.
“I also recommend a cross inter – dependent committee of NBA (Human Rights) and CSO’s to facilitate timely implementation and meet the needs of our people in this regard,” she suggested.