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THE GROWING TRENDS OF INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LITIGATION IN THE U.S - A NEW DAWN OF CHALLENGES FOR NIGERIAN AMERICAN LAWYERS

Posted by Detroit, Michigan on 1/16/2006 3:38:38 PM | Views: 207 |

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Failed projection in travel Ugly Tales Of Abuja Ghettos HOME OF RICHES AND POWES A final word to the cabal in Kaduna How Seme Customs enforced vehicle importation ban Football Prediction in Nigeria and Betting As a Source of Employment Returnee Graduates Disturb As Employers Reject Foreign Degrees The World Through The Lens Of Alternative History The Case Of The Three Abba Kyari Donald Trump's Toxic Masculinity How Donald Trump turned Ted Cruz into a laughingstock Joey's Monday Musings: Is Fela Kuti still relevant in this digital age of Nigerian music? Cancellation Of Post Utme, A Blessing To Our Educational System Moms and dads! Porn shall not be our norm Are most Nigerian artists original? BROKEN RIB (AGAINST DIVORCE) How can Nigeria deal with its recession? The Man Who Named His Dog Buhari Nigeria is Ranked No. 1 In Scrabble Understanding Your Shipping Cost SHOPTOMYDOOR INTENDS TO TACKLE DELIVERY CHALLENGES IN AFRICA CORRUPT EFCC BOSS WHO ARRESTED BLOGGER ABUSIDIQU DEMANDS FOR TWO DIRECTORS AS SURETIES TO SET HIM FREE Being Christian shouldn?t make you a bad dresser Gov. Amaechi Tackles Youths Unemployment Should Sports Not Be A Part Of Okonjo Iweala (Entertainment Industry) Economy Diversification Drive Should Sports Not Be A Part Of Okonjo Iweala (Entertainment Industry) Economy Diversification Drive HP Mobile Authentication Helps Protect Customers Against Counterfeits NIGERIA TODAY Ibis Hotel to Extend Equity in Nigeria, Offer Promo to Customers Looting of treasury at the top SUBSIDIES ON PETROL Youthful magnate extends Midas touch to lifestyle mag . OK! Magazine in association with MTN to launch in Nigeria Hon Emeka Ihedioha: Constituency fund Initiated Project and Matters Arising Lamit Cup - Clay Shooting Competition by Lamit Sports File Restore Tool – Capable to Recover Lost Data Nigeria @ 51 VENIVIICI.COM, ONLINE RETAIL STORE TO LAUNCH OCTOBER 1, 2011 CORRUPTION; THE GREATEST CHALLENGE! THE NIGERIA OF MY DREAMS (PART 2). THE NIGERIA OF MY DREAMS (PART 1). THE PRESIDENCY MUST HEAR THIS. The Dying Education And The Unborn Redeemers. PRINCEWILL AND HIS LOVE FOR THE LESS PRIVILEGED IN NIGERIA Ngor/Okpala: A Council Area in Need of Development OK! NIGERIA ANNOUNCES EDITOR-IN-CHIEF THE INFLUENCE OF TELEVISION ON FAMILY INSTITUTION IN NIGERIA For they know not! Solving our poverty and unemployment crises…a Malay-Israeli approach socio economic transformation of nigeria Original Quotes Exposing the menace of counterfeiting Pan African Airlines (Nigeria) Ltd. 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Quality E-Books and Softwares with Master Resale Rights The Future of Immigration in the West ACHIEVERS ARE DREAMERS celestial church of christ pillarand the ground of truth--1tim,3-14-15 Adeyinka Makinde, author of Dick Tiger, interviewed on Global Talk Radio A superlative performance- our heroine on the world stage A day with Olusesan Ekisola pioneer GM, Raypower THE KALEIDOSCOPE OF PRINCE TONYE PRINCEWILL Ma sise lo, ma se wa isimi COOPERATING WITH COLONIAL COOPERATION. NA WA FOR YABA MARKET. Difference between Online Education VS. Traditional Education Divergent Perspectives on the Niger Delta Question Black Prime Minister Not In My Lifetime Declares UK First Black Female Parliamentarian, Diane Abbott Private Soldier Lectures Nigerian Commander-in-Chief UK Prime Minister speaks out on terrorism in Africa Addressing Nigeria's Economic Problems and the Islamist Terrorist Threat Obasanjo pls we need your attention. Lets Make Nigeria Great THE BAD EGGS OF THE NIGERIAN FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION RE: Obasanjo: Nigerians ll Decide My Successor we are one in christ-celestial member--LOVE- IS THE WORD AND WORSHIP IS THE WAY;- THE CYBER INVESTIGATOR PART 1 CHIEF AUDU OGBE IN RETROSPECT Interview Transcript of appearance on 'Garvey's Children' Boxing: Rousing the Nigerian Giant THE APATHY OF FREE MEN AND THE CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE THE NIGER-DELTA: A CRADLE OF VIOLENCE Interview Transcript of appearance on 'Just About Books' Remembering Rex Lawson THIRD TERM: THE COLOSSAL FAILURE OF A BAD IDEA; AN INVESTIGATION NEEDS TO BE CONDUCTED TO SEE WHO GOT WHAT AND WHY. THE NEXT GOVERNMENT HAS A FIDUCIARY DUTY TO CONDUCT AND INVESTIGATION INTO EFFORTS TO ABROGATE OUR CONSTITUTION; LET THE CHIP FALL WHEREEVER discuss the development of fishey in nigeral Tetuila thrills America CALL FOR GENDER EQUALITIES!!! GOD BLESS NNAMANI Beyond Third Term: The untold story... EMOTIONS AND LOVE AFFAIRS cry of help THE NEW AFRICAN ORDER - The times, they are a-changing We must Stop the Government The Iran Question and Nigeria DISCUSS IN DETAILS THE HISTORY OF AGRICULTURE IN NIGERIA FROM THE COLONIAL ERA TO THE PRESENT DAY, POINTING OUT CLEARLY ALL AGRICULTURAL PROGRAMMES. The worrisome Lagos-Ibadan traffic Hope for Niger Delta Conference on CURBING YOUTH RESTIVENESS IN THE NIGER DELTA Held on the 29th April 2006 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. I want your comments The Ambush of Ambition SAY NO TO OBJ THIRD TERM BID internet secrets to money making LET UNITE AND WORSHIP THE TRUE GOD TOGETHER MEMBERS OF (C.C.C.)WORLDWIDE THE NIGERIA POLICE: VICTORS OR VILLAINS THIRD TERM SYNDROME THE IMMINENT DEATH OF A NATION The Messiah illusions of 'scramble democrats' Beyond elections: Niger Delta in perspective Ngige, welcome home from great conquest AFTER THE BATTLE WHAT NEXT Wake up Nigeria The Delta Murder At Dawn Jelili Omotola (1941-2006) In Amsterdam, Nigerian deportee help up our flight for one hour THE WORLD'S NUMBER 1 BLACK BOOK! NIGER DELTA/SLAVE COAST = GARDEN OF EDEN= BLACK PROGRESS? African Union Defined THE DOUBLE VICTIMS OF DEPRAVITY Constitutional Review Obasanjo sliding into a pariah? A Dream of Nigeria: Critical Published Essays 2002 To 2005 Ali Farka Toure (1939-2006) AFRICA - AMERICA DOUBLE STANDARD RELATIONSHIP The Witch of Web-design, the Young Humanitarian and the Scientific-poetic Soul Conference Annoucement!!!!!! 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Written by: Detroit, Michigan


Recently, Federal Courts in the United States have begun adjudicating civil liability for human rights violations committed in another country under the two - century old Act, the Alien Tort Claims Act and the recently enacted Torture Victims Protection Act. Application of International Human Rights Law in U.S legal System

The Alien Tort Claims Act (ACTA) was adopted in 1789 as part of the original Judiciary Act. In its original form, it made no assertion about legal rights; it simply asserted that '[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States" For almost two centuries, the statute lay relatively dormant, supporting jurisdiction in only a handful of cases. As the result of increasing international concern with human rights issues, however, litigants have recently begun to seek redress more frequently under the ATCA. These suits produced several important decisions interpreting the meaning and scope of the 1789 Act.

For example, in Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, the U. S Court of Appeals held that deliberate torture perpetrated under the color of official authority violates universally accepted norms of international human rights law, and that such a violation of international law constitutes a violation of the domestic law of the United States, giving rise to a claim under the ATCA whenever the perpetrator is properly served within the borders of the United States

Another significant Act, The Torture Victims Protection Act was passed by the Congress in1991. In passing the Torture Victim Prevention Act [TVPA], Congress expressly ratified the U.S Court of Appeal's holding in Flatiga which was decided under the Alien Tort Act that the United States courts have jurisdiction over suits by aliens alleging torture under color of law of a foreign nation, and carried it significantly further. While the Alien Tort Claims Act expressed itself in terms of a grant of jurisdiction to the district courts, the Torture Victims Protection Act :


makes clear that it creates liability under U.S. law where under "color of law, of any foreign nation" an individual is subject to torture or "extra judicial killing," and

extends its remedy not only to aliens but to any "individual," thus covering citizens of the United States as well. The TVPA thus recognizes explicitly what was perhaps implicit in the Act of 1789 - that the law of nations is incorporated into the law of the United States and that a violation of the international law of human rights (at least with regard to torture) is ipso facto a violation of U.S. domestic law
The Torture Victim Protection Act provides that claimants under "this Act" must exhaust available remedies in the place in which the conduct giving rise to the claim occurred

The number of cases that were decided under the Alien Tort Act, even after 1992 when the Torture Victim Protection Act was enacted, indicates the fact that the Torture Victim Protection Act does not supersede or override the provisions of Alien Tort Act. As stated above, the 2nd Circuit in Kadic v Karadzi, supra recently expanded jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Act. Karadzi was decided in 1996, four years after the enactment of the Torture Victim Protection Act

At the very best, what the Torture Victim Protection Act does is to present another alternative law for claimants. In essence, a claimant may elect to bring his case under the Alien Tort Act or choose to bring his action under the Torture Victim Protection Act.

The complaints of torture, degrading and inhumane treatment, wrongful death and violation of rights to life and liberty constitute crimes against humanity under international law

Crimes against humanity recognized by international law also include murder, arbitrary detention and persecution on political or other grounds. Each of these crimes against humanity has been recognized as crimes under international law and codified in international conventions or other international instruments, either expressly or impliedly. Some of these instruments include Article G(c) of the charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (1945), Article 18 of the U.N. Draft Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind (1996), and Article 7 of the statute of the International Criminal Court (1998).

In addition to international conventions and statutes defining the acts of murder, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or other sever deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, torture, persecution, and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity, these acts are also recognized as crimes against humanity under international customary law. This was articulated by Article VI(c) of the International Law Commission's Principles of International Law and recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal.

ii.) Universal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity

Crimes against humanity are subject to universal jurisdiction. This principle has been recognized under international law since the establishment of the International Military Tribunal of Nuremberg, which had jurisdiction over crimes against humanity regardless of where they were committed. The Jus Cogens nature of crimes against humanity.

Crimes against humanity and the norms, which regulate them form part of jus cogens (fundamental norms). As such, they are preemptory norms of general international law that, as recognized in Article 53 of the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties (1969), cannot be modified or revoked by treaty or national law. The article provides that "a preemptory norm of general international law is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of states as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character."

Indeed, as the International Court of Justice recognized in Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Company Ltd, Judgment (ICT. 1972 Report, p.32) the prohibition in international law of crimes against humanity, is an obligation erga omnes which all states have a legal interest in ensuring its implementation

The above legal interest permits any state to exercise universal jurisdiction over persons suspected of committing these crimes against humanity . As a result, a number of states have enacted legislation permitting their courts to exercise universal civil or criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed against humanity. An example is the Alien Tort Claims Act 28 U.S.C. Section 1350 of the United States and the Torture Victims Protection Act.

However, the failure to incorporate international law as crimes against humanity within domestic criminal or civil law of a state does not excuse that state from international responsibility to bring to justice those responsible for inflicting such crimes. According to the U.N. Committee against torture, there exists "a general rule of international law which should oblige all states to take effective measures to prevent torture and to punish acts of torture"

iii) The Federal District Court in the U.S has subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate complaints of torture by foreign complainants by virtue of the Alien Tort Claims Act [ATCA]

The principal exception to the general rule, that U.S. courts do not have jurisdiction over suits whose parties and subject matter are wholly foreign, is the Alien Tort Claims Statute, 28 U.S.C.A. 1350. The statute provides:

"The District Courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States."

By virtue of the foregoing provision, the statute provides, therefore, a private right of action concerning violation of (i) jus cogens (internationally recognized norms) or (ii) of treaty of the United States

The Alien Tort Act was exhaustively discussed as a viable jurisdictional vehicle in Filatiga v Pena-Irala (630 F.2d 876, 2d Cir. 1980). In that case, Dr. Joel Filatiga, a Paraguayan citizen and dissident, obtained a $10 million judgment against Paraguayan police official Pena-Irala who was served with the process in Brooklyn, N.Y. . Filartiga testified that Pena-Irala killed Filartiga's son by torture. The court found subject matter and personal jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Act for violations of the law of nations. The court ruled that the right to be free from torture is "now among" the list of fundamental rights conferred by the international law for purposes of the Alien Tort Statute. The court held inter alia:

"Appellee submits that even if the tort alleged is a violation of modern international law, federal jurisdiction may not be exercised consistent with the Articles III of the constitution. The claim is without merit. Common law courts of general jurisdiction regularly adjudicate transitory tort claims between individuals over whom they exercise personal jurisdiction, wherever the tort occurred. Moreover, as part of an articulated scheme of federal control over external affairs, Congress provided, in the First Judiciary Act, 9 (b), 1, Stat. 73, 77 (1989), for federal jurisdiction over suits by aliens where principles of international law are in issue. The constitutional basis for Alien Tort Statute is the law of nations, which has always been part of the federal common law. It is not extra ordinary for a court to adjudicate a tort claim arising outside its territorial jurisdiction.... we believe it is sufficient here to construe the Alien Tort Statute, not as granting new rights to alien, but simply as opening the federal courts for adjudication fo the rights already recognized by international law."

According to the court in Filartiga, the parity of suits successfully maintained under the Alien Tort Statute is readily attributable to the statute's requirement of alleging a "violation of the laws of nations" at the jurisdictional threshold. The court had little difficulty concluding that 1350 incorporated the "law of nations" as it evolved over time and not simply as it existed when the Alien Tort Statute was enacted in 1789. Most other authorities have agreed. See Tel-oren v Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F.2d 774, 777, 820 (D.C. Cir. 1984); Amerada Hess Shipping Co. v Agentine Republic, 830 F. 2d 421 (2d Cir. 1987), rev'd on other grounds

On the cause of action requirement, the Filartiga Court rejected the Defendant's argument that, even customary international law provides certain human rights protection for individuals, it does not grant them private cause of action to redress violation of those rights. The Filartiga court in rejecting that argument critically implied that the existence of a private right of action was a choice of law issue, not a question of federal jurisdiction

Jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Act was recently expanded by the second circuit in Kadic v Karadzic, 70 F. 3d 232 (2 Cir. 1995), reh'g denied, 74 F.3d 377, cert. Denied. 116 S. Ct. 2524(1996). Croat and Meshon citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina against defendant, Radovan Karadzic, brought suit in Karadzic. Karadzic was personally served with process while visiting in New York as an invitee of the United Nations. The second circuit ruled that the Alien Tort Act conferred jurisdiction for violation of law of nations committed by those acting under color of law to commit genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. (Id at 241-44). The court further observed that the content of the law of nations must be judged, "not as it was in 1789, but as it has evolved and exists among the nation of the world today." (Id at 238, quoting Filartiga, 630 F.2d at 881)

Deliberate torture perpetuated under color of official authority violates universally accepted norms of international law of human rights, regardless of the nationalities of parties, and thus, whenever an alleged torturer is found and served with court process by an alien within the borders of the United States, U.S.C.A. 1350 provides federal jurisdiction.

Official torture constitutes cognizable violation of law of nations for purposes of the Alien Tort Act. In the same vein, allegations of "official" conduct sufficient to establish jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Claims Statute do not automatically implicate act of state doctrine so as to bar adjudication of claims.

iv) No Sovereign Immunity for crimes committed against humanity, which were clearly not within the scope of sovereign authority

Some critics of both Acts have argued that the act of state doctrine is a bar to personal jurisdiction of U.S courts and that Act of State Doctrine and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act preclude courts in the U.S from enquiring into the validity of the public acts of a recognized sovereign committed within its own territory. Under controlling precedent however, the Act of State Doctrine does not immunize perpetrators from liability for human rights violations committed under the color of law particularly when the perpetrator has vacated the sovereign position

To constitute an act of state, the conduct must have been committed by an official of a sitting government and recognized by the United States at the time of the lawsuit. If another government, in other words, has replaced the perpetrator or the government responsible for the act, the Act of State Doctrine has no applicability. Kirkpatrick, 493 U.S. at 409, Sabbatino, 376 U.S. at 428, Republic of Philliphines v Marcos, 862 F.2d. 1355, 1360 (9th Cir. 1988)(en banc)(dismissal unwarranted unless adjudication will result in "hostile confrontation" with foreign state). Thus in Jimenez v Aristeguieta, 311 F.2d 547, 552 (5th Cir. 1962), cert. denied, 373 U.S. 914 (1963), a former Venezuelan head of state was held not protected by the Act of State Doctrine against claims of murder, torture and other crimes. This was because such crimes could never be part of the sovereign functions of a head of state.

Again, In Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino, 37 U.S 398, 428 (1964) the U.S Supreme Court laid a precedent on the act of state doctrine which suggested that U.S courts may review acts of foreign sovereign when there is a great degree of codification or consensus concerning a particular area of international law. It is a fact that there is high degree of consensus regarding the international law prohibiting torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of individuals by government.

In Republic of Phillippines v Marcos, illegal acts committed by former Philippine president Marcos were held not immune from suit because "courts have no difficulty in distinguishing the legal acts of a deposed ruler from his acts for personal profits that lack basis in law." 862 F.2d 1361

It is also trite that those responsible for torture, murder and other crimes against humanity cannot invoke immunity or special privileges as means of avoiding criminal or civil responsibility. The fundamental rule of international law that there is no immunity under international law for heads of state and public officials for crimes against humanity has long been established. It is simply a specific example of the general rule of international law recognized in the Treaty of Versailles of 28 June of 1919 that immunities of heads of state under international law have limits, particu-larly when crimes under international law are involved. Article 7 of the Nuremberg Charter expressly provided:

"The official position of defendants, whether as head of state or responsible officials in government department, shall not be considered as freeing them from responsibility or mitigating punishment."

In its judgment, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg declared: "crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can provisions of international law be enforced" (see Telford Taylor, The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials (New York: Alfred A. Knopf 1992). The Tribunal further held that "the authors of these acts cannot shelter themselves behind their official position in order to be freed from punishment in appropriate proceedings"(Ibid; p.41-42)

The principle of individual civil or criminal responsibility of heads of state for crimes against humanity is part of international law, hence, the U.S legal system

The principles articulated in the Nuremberg Charter and judgments have long been recognized as part of international law. The U.N. General Assembly endorsed "the principles of international law recognized by the charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the judgment of the Tribunal" in G.A. Res. 95(1) of 11 December 1946

The U.N. International Law Commission has explained why the rule that heads of states and public officials are not immune when they commit crimes under international law is an essential part of the international legal system:

The Commission states that:

"Crimes against the peace and security of mankind often require the involvement of persons in position of governmental authority who are capable of formulating plans or policies involving acts of exceptional gravity and magnitude. These crimes require the power to use or to authorize the use of the essential means of destruction and to mobilize the personnel required for carrying the use of these crimes. A govern-ment official who plans, instigates, authorizes or orders such crimes not only provides the means and the personnel required for carrying out the crime, but also abuses the authority and power entrusted to him. He may therefore, be considered to be even more culpable than the subordinate who actually commits the criminal act. It would be paradoxical to allow the individuals who are, in some respects, the most responsible for the crimes covered by the [Draft Code of Crimes Against Peace and Security of Mankind] to invoke the sovereignty of the state and to hide behind immunity that is conferred on them by virtue of their positions particularly since these heinous crimes shock the conscience of mankind, violate some of the most fundamental rules of international law and threaten international peace and security." (1996 Report of the International Law Commission at p. 39)

It therefore, necessarily follows that the international law rule that heads of state and government officials are not immune from criminal or civil prosecution applies to international courts and U.S courts as demonstrated by the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victims Protection Act. By so doing, the Alien Tort Act vests jurisdiction for crimes against humanity on federal district courts and divests heads of state and government of any immunity protection afforded by Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. See In re Estate of Ferdinand Marcos, 25 F.3d 1467(9th Cir. 1994) (holding that Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act did not prevent jurisdiction over the estate of the former president of the Philippines for alleged acts of torture and wrongful death since those acts were not official acts committed within the scope of his authority. Other national courts had upheld similar position. See for example, District Court of Jerusalem, Attorney General of the Government of Israel v Eichmann, 36 Int'l. L. Rep. [1961], 5, Para. 30; Trial of the nine Military Commanders who had ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1982, Argentinean Federal Court of Appeals, Judgment on 9 December 1985 and Argentinean Supreme Court of Justice, Judgment 30, December 1986: Trial of former president General Luis Garcia Meza and his collaborators on multiple violations, Bolivian Supreme Court of Justice, Judgment on 21 April 1993; Honecker case: Bverfg (Third Chamber of Second Senate), order on 21 February 1992, Dt Z 1992, 216)

The Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victims Protection Act are congressional acts. Federal courts treat the acts as incorporating rules of international law as federal rules of decision in which Plaintiffs may base their claims for monetary damages. In addition, there is a line of federal cases to the effect that some rules of customary international law have the status of federal common law in the United States. The rules most likely to have this status would be specific rules protecting basic human rights, such as the rule against torture, inhuman and degrading treatment.

v.) The Nigerian political situation and its consequences on international human rights litigation

We must admit that the major problem that Nigeria has faced since independence, and especially in the last twenty years, has been one of leadership. This problem is not limited to Nigeria but the entire African continent. Apart from a few countries such as Botswana, the entire African continent has a leadership crisis today. Only the incredulous or dishonest Africans would deny this fact. From Cote d'Ivoire to Zimbabwe, from Nigeria to Zambia, despotism seems to have reached new heights in the 1980s. Governments, military or civilian, have become increasingly autocratic, corrupt, and unaccountable to the people. Africans are often swift on blaming all their problems on the catchy and convenient excuse of "foreign imperialism." But an honest analysis of the situation in various African countries puts the blame inexorably on African leaders. The crises of economic decline, the dept burden, falling educational standards, unemployment, crime, violence, disease, especially the devastation of HIV, can all be blamed on irresponsible African leadership.

(Prof. Kofi Egbo, "The African Leadership Crisis," in The African Informer, Dec. 2002).

The specific case of Nigeria is particularly perplexing because whatever goes on in Nigeria has far-reaching implications for the entire African continent. Whether we realize it or not, many Africans look up to Nigeria as 'big brother.' As in every African family, if big brother is a buffoon, the family is doom because the younger siblings would not be any better.

The Shagari administration from 1979 to 1983 was, to put it mildly, inept and corrupt. But Nigeria never had it as bad until the military regimes of Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Abdusalami Abubakar from 1985 to 1999. Under the three, corruption was institutionalized; there was blatant looting of the national treasury, which has crippled the Nigerian economy till date. Worse still, state-sponsored terrorism of the citizenry became the order of the day. Time will fail me to enumerate each in this presentation but we cannot fail to remember the cold-blooded unlawful murders of Dele Giwa, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, Pa Alfred Rewane, and the hanging of writer Ken Tsaro-Wiwa and his eight Ogoni environmental activists. Under General Abdusallami Abubakar who succeeded Abacha (and, by the way, was part of the decision-making bodies of the previous regimes), Chief M. K. O. Abiola, Nigeria's president-elect was murdered while still in detention.

In spite of some 16 years of a reign of terror by these individuals against the Nigerian people, the politicians who took over power from the military in 1999 seem to be oblivious to these realities. Today in Nigeria, in spite of the promises of President Olusegun Obasanjo to route out corruption, the politicians are more concerned about what they can siphon from the national treasury than righting what has gone wrong in Nigeria.

As lawyers, all of us here would agree the so-called 1999 Constitution was an imposition by the military. Many Nigerians acquiesced to it, if that was the easiest way to get the military to relinquish power. But, rather than listen to the clamor of a majority of Nigerians for popular constitution based on a Sovereign National Conference, the presidency and National Assembly are each tinkering with an illegal constitution to suit their individual purposes. President Obasanjo appointed a commission to "review" the constitution his first year in office; most Nigerians have never heard or seen the recommendation of that commission. Recently, the National Assembly, which obviously has wind of that commission's recommendations, appointed its own commission whose recommendations set term limits on the president and governors but not on legislators. Is that what Nigerians are asking for in the name of a Sovereign National Conference?

Two years ago, some states in Northern Nigeria proclaimed Sharia Law, a de facto rebellion against the Nigerian nation-state, or what a colleague has labeled as "secession from Nigeria." It is not my intention to raise any sectional emotions, but if we must call a spade a spade, hasn't any objective member of this august gathering wondered about the timing of the proclamation of Sharia Law in the states that have adopted it? My humble submission is that Sharia is being used as political tool rather than as an expression of true religious conviction.

Toward the 2003 elections, the same people who have wrought so much havoc on Nigeria are rearing their heads shamelessly to run for office. The same sycophants who led Nigeria to civil war between 1967 and 1970, the same sycophants who beat the drums of self-succession for Babangida and Abacha, the same sycophants are at it again "drafting" the same people to run for office. Perhaps more frightening is the determination of many incumbent politicians to retain their positions by any means possible, including violence. It is no secret that politicians finance the escalating violence in Nigeria. Some state governors are openly recruiting and arming the teeming jobless youths to murder their opponents and family members. The governor of a certain state who has seen the handwriting on the wall that he has no chance of winning the next election is boastfully campaigning on the platform that whether the citizens of his state vote for him or not, he is going to win re-election. As ludicrous as such a campaign against him may sound to us from here, the governor must be taken seriously; he knows what he is talking about.

At this juncture, it is necessary for each of us gathered here to pause to reflect on two sets of questions: 1. Not how, but WHY has Nigeria, the self-proclaimed "Giant of Africa," sunken to this level of anarchy and decay? WHY do successive Nigerian rulers feel so invincible and audacious? WHY do the same people keep recycling themselves in power? 2. Can anything be done about it?

The answer to the first set of questions is simple: As ignorant as many of us may view these miscreants, they have mastered the collective psyche of Nigerians. They know that our collective memory is very short indeed. They know that if they murdered each Nigerian's mother, there will still be some orphaned Nigerian sycophants who would hero-worship them for killing their mothers. But more importantly, they know that a majority of Nigerians would be too squeamish to even weep at their mother's funeral!

But, there is a beacon of hope. A growing number of Nigerians are beginning to ask hard questions and are taking action. In February 2000, a group of Nigerian political activists lit a little match that is growing into a towering inferno. They were able to work with a few other courageous Nigerians as plaintiffs to file a suit in the United States against five former Nigerian rulers for their actions while in power. The former rulers are General Muhammadu Buhari, General Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, and General Abdusallami Abubakar. As a result of an international media blitz which warned the Nigerian leaders that they would be served summonses if they came to the US for a so-called Abdusallami Abubakar Distinguished Lecture at Chicago State University, the first three abstained. However, General Abubakar, with the usual arrogance he is used to in Nigeria, showed up and was promptly served a summons. For Abubakar, what some of his colleagues in Nigeria assured him was just simply noise making by Nigerian "taxi drivers and janitors" has turned out to be a huge nightmare.

It is no longer a secret that I am leading the team of attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case. And so, it is pertinent to mention here that some of the loudest initial critics who questioned the tenability of the suit were my Nigerian colleagues of the bar practicing here in the US. Whether out of lack of awareness or conscientious cynicism, some questioned the basis on which a suit could be brought against a "foreign Head of State in a US court for acts committed outside the US." Some scoffed that the suit was DOA (Dead on Arrival). As you all probably know, the case is now about two years old and it is very unlikely that Abubakar will be exonerated from the complaint against him. It is more likely that he would be held liable by the U.S Court.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from this action. First, as I have discussed earlier, the basis of the case is the US Alien Tort Act, which permits such a suit. Second, history has proved that all tyrants are cowards when confronted with the appropriate force; mere threats of summonses were enough to keep the three former Nigerians from coming to the U.S. Third, I predict a floodgate of similar suits in the near future. In fact, activists in some states in Nigeria have put their current governors and legislators on notice about similar actions against them.

The last lesson is one I feel is of significance to this gathering and it relates to the second question I posed earlier: Can anything be done about the situation? To answer that question, I would like to quote a short but highly instructive sentence from Professor Wole Soyinka's The Open sore of a Continent:


"Every thinking inhabitant of a given national space must surely, at some moment or the other of his existence, reflect upon the significance, or none, of his or her own identity as it relates to the existing or historical definitions of that space."
(Wole Soyinka, The Open Sore of a Continent, Oxford University Press, 1996).

So, while I am not advocating for every one of us to become a "freedom fighter" or political activist, we as Nigerian American lawyers should use our position and knowledge in ushering in and ensuring a true and sustainable democracy and respect for human rights in Nigeria. At the very least, such peaceful actions will serve as salutary caution to future Nigerian leaders about the universality of human rights violations and crimes against humanity. This is the challenge before us as Nigerian American lawyers.

vi) Problems and prospects

The U.S Court of Appeals in Wiwa v Shell, a case that involved civil suits brought against Shell Oil Company for the executions of several Nigerians, including prominent author, Ken Saro Wiwa, arising out of disputes over the development of oil resources in the homeland of Ogoni people summarizes the problems often encountered by Plaintiffs as follows:


" One of the difficulties that confront victims of torture under color of a nation's law is the enormous difficulty of bringing suits to vindicate such abuses. Most likely, the victims cannot sue in the place where the torture occurred. Indeed, in many instances, merely returning to that place would endanger the victim. It is not easy to bring such suits in the courts of another nation. Courts are often inhospitable. Such suits are generally time consuming, burdensome, and difficult to administer. In addition, because they assert outrageous conduct on the part of another nation, such suits may embarrass the government of the nation in whose courts they are brought. Finally, because characteristically neither the plaintiffs nor the defendants are ostensibly either protected or governed by the domestic law of the forum nation, courts often regard such suits as "not our business."
The good news however, is that the U.S Court of Appeals further held in Wiwa's case that "the new formulations of the Torture Victim Protection Act convey the message that torture committed under color of law of a foreign nation in violation of international law is "our business," as such conduct not only violates the standards of international law but also as a consequence violates our domestic law. In the legislative history of the TVPA, Congress noted that universal condemnation of human rights abuses "provide[s] scant comfort" to the numerous victims of gross violations if they are without a forum to remedy the wrong. This passage supports plaintiffs' contention that in passing the Torture Victim Prevention Act, Congress has expressed a policy of U.S. law favoring the adjudication of such suits in U.S. courts. If in cases of torture in violation of international law our courts exercise their jurisdiction conferred by the 1789 Act only for as long as it takes to dismiss the case for forum non-conveniens, we will have done little to enforce the standards of the law of nations.





KAYODE OLADELE, is the plaintiff counsel in the civil case against General A. Abubakar in a US Court.


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