The UN may have stepped in to avert the execution of the 54 Nigerian soldiers who were recently convicted and sentenced to death for refusing to fight against the insurgent group Boko Haram, if indications from a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) are anything to go by.
According to the Nigeria-based Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), the Office of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary or Summary Executions, Mr. Christof Heyns, has promised “appropriate action including communication to the government of President Goodluck Jonathan'' to avert the soldiers' execution.
SERAP said in a statement sent to PANA Sunday that the promise followed a petition submitted to Mr Heyns in December 2014 in which the group asked five UN human rights independent experts to individually and jointly use their “good offices and positions to urgently request the Nigerian government and its military authorities not to carry out the mass death sentences imposed on 54 Nigerian soldiers for what the government claimed was disobeying a direct order from their commanding officer.”
“SERAP has been in discussion with Johel Dominique at the Office of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions both on the telephone and via email. Johel Dominique has confirmed that the Special Rapporteur is considering appropriate action to avert the imminent execution of 54 soldiers on death row in the country.
''We have also confirmed to the Special Rapporteur that SERAP has the consent of Mr Femi Falana, SAN, the legal counsel to the 54 soldiers to file the petition,” the NGO said.
It welcomed the decision by Mr. Heyns to intervene in the matter, saying given his longstanding human rights commitment and achievements, ''we have absolutely no doubt that Mr Heyns will work assiduously to ensure that justice is done in this matter and we wish him well as he strives to do that.”
On 17 Dec., 2014, a Nigerian military court convicted 54 soldiers for conspiracy to commit mutiny and sentenced them to death by firing squad.
The facts of the case indicate that the soldiers, from the 111 Special Forces, were charged for disobeying a direct order from their commanding officer, Timothy Opurum, a Lieutenant Colonel, to take part in an operation to recapture Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa in North-east Borno State from Boko Haram terrorists on 4 Aug. 2014
The conviction and sentence have generated controversy in Nigeria, with key opposition leaders and some retired military officers saying the soldiers, who claimed they were poorly equipped, were right to refuse to fight against a better-armed insurgent group.
Nigerian military courts have been engaged in a spate of trials resulting from the actions or inaction of troops deployed to battle the insurgency. Twelve other soldiers were sentenced to death in Sept. 2014 while many other trials are pending.
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