By Michael Oche
International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW) has said the assault and unlawful temporary detention of Comrade Joe Ajaero, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress by men of the Nigerian police, is in violation of Nigeria’s international legal obligations.
Ajaero was assaulted and then forcibly detained by the Imo State Police Command during a protest by workers in Imo state. The workers were demonstrating over labour rights violations occurring in the state.
The attack which happened on Wednesday has attracted global condemnation from trade union leaders as well as human rights activists.
ILAW Network, which comprises over 1,100 workers’ rights lawyers and scholars in over 90 countries, including in Nigeria in a letter addressed to governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State said the attack on Ajaero constitutes a serious obstacle to the exercise of trade union rights, and is in violation of ILO Convention 87 and 98.
“We note that Nigeria has ratified Conventions 87 and 98 of the International Labour Organisation, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. All of these instruments protect the fundamental right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly and require States to guarantee their free exercise,” the letter signed by ILAW’s Chair, Jeffrey Vogt noted.
The Network reminded the governor that the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) has repeatedly found that “the rights of workers and employers organizations can only be exercised in a climate that is free from violence, pressure or threats of any kind against the leaders and members of these organizations, and it is for governments to ensure that this principle is respected.”
Furthermore, it stated that the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (UNSR FOAA) has provided guidance on managing assemblies, stating that “force shall not be used unless it is strictly unavoidable, and if applied, it must be done in accordance with international human rights law.”
According to Vogt, “The actions of the Imo State Police Command and Governor of Imo State are in direct violation of the fundamental right of freedom of association and assembly under international and national law of Nigeria.”
He said for these reasons, the ILAW Network strongly urge the Governor of State Imo to desist from the future use of excessive force against peaceful protestors and investigate the use of force by police in this instance, as well as the arrest of President Ajaero.
It further added that the state must provide a full remedy to the victims of violence and arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as for property damage caused by the police.”