Premium Times (Abuja)

West Africa: ECOWAS Court to Review Death Sentence on Two Nigerians By Gambian Court

The ECOWAS Court in Abuja, on Tuesday, fixed May 7 for hearings in the case of two Nigerians sentenced to death by a Gambian Court.

The case was filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on behalf of two convicts - Michael Ifunanya and Stanley Agbaeze.

The applicants are seeking, among others, an order directing The Gambia to fully implement its obligations of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. The charter was adopted by both the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly.

The case was first brought before the ECOWAS Court in September 2012.

The presiding judge, Anthony Benin, while reviewing the preliminary applications of both parties, said the plaintiff had filed an application of the defendant's alleged violations of human rights. Mr. Benin said the plaintiffs stated that the defendant denied the convicts the right of appeal.

The judge said the appellant alleged that The Gambian Government violated the requirements of the African Charter of Human and Peoples' Rights.

"This violates their human rights to life, to due process of law, to access to justice and judicial independence, to a fair hearing, to appeal and to effective remedy.

"The Gambian Government's action violates the resolutions adopted by both the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the UN General Assembly requiring countries, including The Gambia, to adopt Moratorium on execution of the death penalty.

"The resolution asked AU member states, including The Gambia that still retained the death penalty, to fully comply with their obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

"It also requires that every person accused of crime for which capital punishment is applicable should be guaranteed fair trial standards and countries should include in their periodic reports information on the steps taken toward abolishing the death penalty," he stated.

The presiding judge also noted that the defendant had argued that the court lacked the jurisdiction to hear the case.

Mr. Benin said that the defendant contended that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case, describing it as criminal and that the accused were punishable by law. He said defendants argued that the case had been brought before the Criminal Court in The Gambia which had the jurisdiction to hear it.

The judge, however emphasised that the court was guided by the Revised Treaty of ECOWAS. He said the application raised charges of human rights violation to which the jurisdiction of the court was "appropriately invoked".

"The court notes that the issues before this court and that of Gambia are not similar; to oust the human rights jurisdiction of the court is not appropriate.

"The issue is one founded on human rights and the court has the jurisdiction to hear and determine cases on merit," Mr. Benin said.

The convicts, Messrs. Ifunanya and Agbaeze, were charged with murder in June 2012 and sentenced to death by hanging by the Special Criminal Court in The Gambia.

The accused persons were among 47 other convicts scheduled for execution in September, 2012 after The Gambian President Yayah Jammeh gave the directive to execute persons on the death row.

Mr. Jammeh later succumbed to international and domestic pressures on September 15, 2012 by suspending the execution of 38 remaining inmates on the death row.

Before then, however, nine of the 47 condemned inmates had been executed by firing squad on August 28, 2012. NAN

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