We are writing to express our deep concern over a ruling by an Islamic court in northern Nigeria that sentenced Safiya Hussaini Tungar-Tudu to death by stoning after finding her guilty of pre-marital sex. We urge you to intervene on her behalf to prevent this cruel and inhuman punishment from being meted out against her.
As an international organization committed to the defense of basic human rights, we oppose the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty. Additionally, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Nigeria ratified in July 1993, strictly prohibits the imposition of capital punishment on a pregnant woman.
International human rights law guarantees women the right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters relating to their sexual autonomy, without coercion, discrimination, and violence. Therefore, when a woman is severely punished for pre-marital sex, her right to make free decisions regarding her body is violated.
Based on the information we received, on October 9, 2001, the Islamic court in Gwadabawa, Sokoto State, in northern Nigeria sentenced Ms. Tungar-Tudu to death after finding her guilty of having pre-marital sex, a punishable offence under Sharia law. Ms. Tungar-Tudu has until November 8 to file an appeal. We understand that the court's ruling is pending approval by the governor of Sokoto State, after which a date to mete out the punishment will be fixed.
The cornerstone of human rights is respect for the inherent dignity of all human beings and the inviolability of the human person. These principles cannot be reconciled with the death penalty, a form of punishment that is unique in its barbarity and finality.
Human Rights Watch urges you to ensure that this cruel and inhuman sentence is not carried out. Human Rights Watch also urges you to monitor all courts in Nigeria, including Sharia courts, to ensure that the courts operate in accordance with international human rights law and the bill of rights in Nigeria's own constitution.
LaShawn R. Jefferson
Women's Rights Division
The Ambassador, Federal Republic of Nigeria Consulate, Washington D. C.
Governor of Sokoto State
Attorney General of Nigeria
Attorney General of Sokoto State
Ministry of Women Affairs
Senate Committee on Women Affairs