The African Union, through its Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has ordered the Nigerian government to stay impending execution of 870 prisoners on death row across prisons in the country, pending the determination of a communication brought by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

SERAP had alleged before the African Commission that the “government’s only justification for executing the prisoners is to address prison congestion.”

The African Commission granted the request by SERAP asking it to order the Nigerian government to stay execution of the prisoners, maintain moratorium on execution of the death penalty, and move towards abolition. The African Commission Secretariat in Banjul confirmed the decision in a correspondence with SERAP.

The decision and urgent appeal sent last week to President Jonathan Goodluck by Commissioner Zainabo Sylvie Kayitesi, Chairperson, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Working Group on Death Penalty, followed a Communication filed on June, 23 2010 before the Commission by the Solicitor to SERAP, Mr Femi Falana. In the request for provisional measures, the organisation asked the Chairperson of the Commission, Commissioner Reine Alapini- Gansou, to “urgently invoke Article 111 (Rule of Procedure) authority to request that Nigeria adopt provisional measures in order to stop the irreparable damage that would be caused to the more than 800 complainants and their African Charter rights.”

The request for provisional measures was submitted in conjunction with SERAP’s communication to the African Commission.

Reacting to the African Commission’s decision, SERAP’s lawyer, Falana, said, “By this decision, the Commission has once again demonstrated its authority and progressive and expansive mandates to hold African governments accountable for their human rights commitments.

“In line with the expressed commitment of the current administration, we now expect that the federal government and the state governors will move swiftly to implement the orders by the Commission by suspending any plan to execute the over 870 death row prisoners in the country. As the Chair of ECOWAS, Nigeria has a responsibility to show leadership and good example for others in the sub-region, and Africa as a whole,” Falana added

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