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The Role of the International Community
The international community’s weak and indecisive response to Abacha’s plans for “transition” remained unchanged until his death. General Abubakar’s taking power, the release of political prisoners, and the fresh transition program were greeted with relief. Representatives of multilateral bodies and individual states lined up to meet with the new head of state, and all indications were that sanctions in place against the Abacha regime would be lifted sooner rather than later. Indeed, many of the measures announced by General Abubakar—such as cooperation on drug enforcement issues or steps to address air safety—seemed designed for an international rather than a domestic audience, aimed at Nigeria’s reintegration into international diplomatic circles.

The Commonwealth
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) met at the end of October 1997 and voted to continue Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth, imposed in 1995, and the mandate of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). CMAG met in March 1998 and issued a statement expressing its concern at human rights violations and calling for respect for the 1991 Harare Commonwealth Declaration, committing Commonwealth members to democratic governance. The Commonwealth secretary-general, Emeka Anyaoku, a Nigerian himself, visited Nigeria from June 28 to July 2, 1998, and met with new head of state General Abubakar. He was criticized by human rights groups for allegedly putting pressure on Chief Abiola to accept a conditional release from detention, but denied these charges. Meeting for the first time since Abacha’s death, on October 8 and 9, CMAG heard representations from Nigeria’s new foreign minister, Ignatius Olisemeka; recommended that member states begin to lift sanctions against Nigeria; and decided to assess progress in Nigeria following presidential elections at the end of February 1999, with a view to making recommendations regarding Nigeria’s full return to the Commonwealth.

Canada, consistently the most outspoken member of CMAG, took the first steps to restoring diplomatic links broken in 1996, when Secretary of State for Africa David Kilgour visited Nigeria in September and offered financial and technical assistance for the elections, as did other Commonwealth members and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

United Nations
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was one of the first leaders to meet with General Abubakar. Like Anyaoku, he was criticized for appearing to suggest that a conditional release for Chief Abiola would be acceptable. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson issued statements welcoming General Abubakar’s announcement of the release of political prisoners, and hoping that pledges of respect for human rights would soon turn to reality. The U.N. also offered technical assistance for the elections.

The Abacha government did not allow the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Nigeria, Soli Sorabjee, entry to Nigeria. His 1998 reports were therefore based on information gathered outside the country. The report to the Commission on Human Rights concluded that “widespread violation of human rights occurs in Nigeria,” that “the Nigerian legal system does not currently provide effective protection of human rights,” and that “the rule of law does not prevail in Nigeria,” as well as detailinga range of specific abuses. The commission voted to continue his mandate for a further year. In September, it was announced that the special rapporteur would be allowed access to the country.

In April, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights considered Nigeria’s first report on its implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and, regretting its poor quality, noted numerous grave violations. The committee stated that the restoration of democracy and the rule of law were prerequisites for the implementation of the covenant, and called for the Nigerian government to address a range of abuses, including violations of labor rights, violence and discrimination against women and children, arbitrary evictions, and discrimination against minorities. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women considered Nigeria’s second and third reports to it in July, covering the period 1987 to 1994. The committee noted abuses relating to cultural stereotypes, violence against women, low levels of education among women, and the lack of a legal and constitutional framework to strengthen implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

In March 1998, the Governing Body of the International Labor Organization (ILO) voted to establish a commission of inquiry into violations of ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association and other abuses of labor rights in Nigeria, its strongest expression of disapproval. The work of the commission of inquiry was suspended when the new government released detained union leaders and repealed several decrees restricting union activity. In its place, a “direct contacts mission” visited Nigeria from August 17 to 21, 1998.

European Union and its Member States
Sanctions imposed by the European Union (E.U.) following the November 1995 executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other human rights activists, renewable on a six-monthly basis, remained in force during 1998. However, in November 1997, the General Affairs Council, pushed in particular by France and Germany, voted to relax existing visa restrictions to allow the Nigerian soccer team to play in the 1998 World Cup in France and to allow exemptions to visa restrictions on members of the regime on humanitarian grounds. France and Germany both used these exemptions to allow Nigerian ministers to enter their countries.

Prior to General Abacha’s death, the E.U. presidency issued a statement describing the transition program as a “failure.” After General Abubakar became head of state, Minister of State Tony Lloyd visited Nigeria on behalf of the British presidency of the E.U. and met with Abubakar and others. The E.U. welcomed the release of political prisoners and the new transition program, and announced that it would allow high-level visits by Nigerian officials on a case-by-case basis, to promote political dialogue, though visa restrictions would remain in place for the time being. France called for existing sanctions to be lifted at an early date. Other European countries, including the U.K., also took a softer line, welcoming the reforms and indicating that all sanctions except the arms embargo might be lifted when reviewed in November. British Airways flights to Lagos resumed at the end of July, after being suspended for over one year.

United States
The Clinton administration’s position on Nigeria, prior to General Abacha’s death, continued to seem confused and directionless. In March 1998, in advance of President Clinton’s trip to Africa, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice stated that “electoral victory by any military candidate in the forthcoming presidential election in Nigeria would be unacceptable.” In South Africa, however, Clinton himself stated only that “if Abacha stands, we hope he will stand as a civilian.” The U.S. later joined other states and multilateral bodies in welcoming the changes brought by General Abubakar, and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering led a delegation to Abuja (in whose presence MKO Abiola collapsed from a heart attack). In September, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Franklin Kramer traveled to Nigeria for talks on military cooperation.

The section on Nigeria in the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1997 was thorough and accurate, existing measures to press Nigeria to respect human rights remained in place, and the U.S. issued a number of statements condemning military rule and human rights violations. For the fifth time, Nigeria was denied counter-narcotics certification under Section 481 of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA), thus requiring the U.S. to vote against Nigeria in six multilateral development banks and to refuse all FAA and Arms Control Export Act assistance to Nigeria. Direct flights to Nigeria remained banned due to safety concerns. In May 1998, companion bills were introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate to set benchmarks before existing sanctions could be lifted.

An initiative to introduce legislation in the Maryland state legislature in March 1998, echoing resolutions adopted by several U.S. cities and counties forbidding municipal authorities from purchasing products from Nigeria or from companies that do business in Nigeria, was defeated: Deputy Assistant Secretary David Marchick gave testimony on behalf of the Clinton administration opposing the bill. U.S.-based oil companies, including Mobil, Chevron, Texaco, and others, invested in lobbying campaigns against unilateral sanctions by U.S. government institutions, through the Corporate Council on Africa, a coalition of U.S. corporations known as USA Engage, and bilaterally.

Organization of African Unity (OAU) and its Member States
African countries remained in general reluctant to condemn Nigeria’s human rights record and Abacha’s transition program. Following his death, African leaders rushed, like world leaders in general, to meet with General Abubakar. Salim Ahmed Salim, secretary-general of the OAU, led a six-person delegation to Abuja in July, and expressed confidence in Abubakar’s transition program. South African deputy president Thabo Mbeki traveled to Nigeria in July, and Abubakar returned the visit in August,addressing the South African parliament during his visit, as well as attending the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Durban in September. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, an organ of the OAU, once again failed, at its March session in Banjul, to adopt decisions on a number of cases relating to Nigeria, including applications from human rights organizations filed in relation to the trial and execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his co-defendants.




The Democratic Republic of Congo







Sierra Leone

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Stop the Use of Child Soldiers

Abduction and Enslavement of Ugandan Children

Human Rights Causes of the Famine in Sudan


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