Stoning to Death : A woman saved, a man condemned

FIDH/Civil Liberties organization(CLO)

Press release

The FIDH and its Nigerian affiliate, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), welcome the verdict rendered by the Katsina State Sharia Court of Appeal acquitting Amina Lawal.

Amina Lawal, a 30-year-old Muslim woman, was sentenced on March 23, 2002 by a Sharia Court in Bakori, in Katsina State of Nigeria, to death by stoning as a punishment for bearing a child out of wedlock. The Upper Area Court confirmed the sentence on August 19, 2002.
Helped by some Nigerian women’s rights groups, and with the support of the international community (see FIDH press release), Amina Lawal’s lawyers appealed the decision.

After four delays of hearings, the judges on a majority decision said the acquittal of M s Lawal was based on procedural errors at her original trial, and also on the fact that her adultery was not proved beyond doubt. They finally emphasized that Sharia entered into force in Katsina State after the birth of Amina’s child and then could not have retroactive effect.

While Thursday’s ruling means Ms Lawal can go home a free woman, the issue of Sharia and in particular Sharia punishments has not gone away. Besides, shortly after the verdict, reports were coming in of a Nigerian man being sentenced to death by stoning for sodomy after he allegedly slept with three boys in the northern Bauchi state. Unless Sharia is addressed comprehensively as a system, it may claim other victims with time.
The FIDH and CLO have over time denounced the imposition of such harsh and inhuman punishments, which violate international human rights instruments, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

Besides, the FIDH and the CLO are committed to the abolition of the death penalty in all its ramifications and calls on the Nigerian authorities to take all appropriate steps towards its abolition. Such steps should include a sustained programme of public enlightenment and re-orientation and a process of nation-wide discussions and debates, as already planned by President Obasanjo. These should build up to the enactment of federal and state laws to remove the death penalty from the country’s criminal and penal codes.

The Nigerian government needs to put in place an inclusive process of constitutional reform that will enable the Nigerian people freely negotiate the terms of their union, including the rights and limitations of persons and communities to practice the tenets and injunctions of their faiths. The present Nigerian Constitution was imposed by the country’s erstwhile military rulers without the significant involvement of the varied interests that make up the country’s complex social landscape.

The FIDH and CLO recommend further in depth field research and reflection within the international human rights community on the implications of implementing Sharia in the present form in a society like Nigeria. The FIDH recommends in particular to the United Nations Special Rapporteur Human Rights and to the Special Rapporteur of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to visit Nigeria and study the problem.

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