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By Michael Birnbaum QC

Published by ARTICLE 19 in association with the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales and the Law Society of England and Wales

June 1995

This report about the trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other members of the Ogoni community in Nigeria was prepared by Michael Birnbaum QC, a senior English criminal lawyer, who attended part of the proceedings in March 1995. He did so as the accredited representative of the Law Society of England and Wales and the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, of which he is a member, and with the support of ARTICLE 19, the International Centre Against Censorship.

Michael Birnbaum was asked to attend the trial proceedings as an international observer in view of widely expressed concern in the UK and elsewhere that the trial might not conform to internationally-recognized standards of fair trial and could result in the imposition of the death penalty on some or all of the accused in circumstances where they will be denied any right of appeal to a higher court. This, in itself, would represent a gross breach of international standards. Mr Birnbaum’s specific order of mission is set out in the text of his report.

ARTICLE 19 is now publishing this report, in association with the Law Society and the Bar Human Rights Committee, because it is clear that the trial is fundamentally flawed and there is grave reason to fear that its continuation will represent a gross injustice and an abuse of human rights. The tribunal established to hear the case is neither independent nor impartial: it has handed down rulings which are blatantly unfair and militate against any prospect of the accused receiving a fair trial, as required by international law. The Federal Military Government’s decision that this case should be heard by a special tribunal, rather than the ordinary courts, undermines the normal rights of defence enshrined in Nigeria’s own Constitution and in international human rights instruments to which Nigeria is a party. It also suggests that the government’s actions may be politically- motivated and intended to silence one of its most outspoken critics.

Michael Birnbaum’s report provides a valuable, independent analysis of the proceedings, including the composition and conduct of the tribunal, the nature of the charges and evidence against the accused, and the legal basis of the case. His assessment takes particular account of the requirements of Nigeria’s Constitution and law and of the international human rights instruments that Nigeria has committed itself to uphold.

ARTICLE 19, the Law Society and the Bar Human Rights Committee are calling on the Federal Military Government to take immediate action to terminate the trials before this special tribunal. If the government wishes to try any of the defendants, the trial should take place before an ordinary court and in such a way as to guarantee all their rights under both Nigerian and international law.

We urge the international community to support this call and to make clear to the Nigerian government its obligation to fully respect the right to freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights, including the right to fair trial.


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