Maimuna Abdulmumini v. Federal Republic of Nigeria, Kastina State Government and the Nigerian Prison Service.
Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
Ruling No: ECW/CCJ/jud/14/14
10 June 2014
African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights: Article 7
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child: Articles 5, 17 and 30
The case was brought by a girl convicted for culpable homicide and sentenced to death by hanging in relation to acts committed when she was 13 years old.
The plaintiff was arrested at the age of 13 as a suspect in relation to an arson which resulted in the death of her husband, to whom she had already been married for 5 months. After being remanded for 6 months, she was released on bail. More than two years later, when criminal charges were officially filed against her, she had remarried and given birth to a child. During the trial, she was assigned a legal counsel by the state, but he did not make any mitigation plea and she was sentenced to death by hanging. At the time of the hearing before the ECOWAS Court of Justice, she was imprisoned with her child, whom she was still nursing.
The state contested the fact that she was 13 when the crime was committed, arguing she had been an adult. They also pointed out that the plaintiff herself had decided that she wants the child to stay with her in detention rather than release it to the father, her second husband.
The plaintiff argued before the ECOWAS Court of Justice that her right to be represented in court and right to due process under Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights had been breached. The sentencing judge did not take into account the fact that she was a minor in contradiction of Article 17 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) which requires special treatment for children found guilty of having infringed penal law as well as Article 30 of the same which prohibits the death penalty in relation to mothers of young children. She alleged a further violation of the right to life, survival and development under Article 5 of the ACRWC, paragraph 3 of which expressly prohibits the death sentence for crimes committed by children.
The respondent State argued that since the girl was married, in law she is considered to be of full age, that no law exists in Nigeria to prohibit the death penalty in relation to either adults or young persons, therefore the death sentence is constitutionally permitted.
Issue and resolution:
Death penalty. The Court ruled the imposition of the death penalty violated the rights of the plaintiff. The Court found against the State, holding that the plaintiff had been a minor at the time the offence was committed, and therefore, Article 5(3) of the ACRWC applies and awarded compensation to the plaintiff.
Although the Court found a violation of the ACRWC, its competence does not allow it to quash the sentence of death penalty issued by the national court. The Court made an order that the Nigerian State commutes the plaintiff’s sentence. At the time of writing, the court’s judgment had only just been served on the Nigerian government and it is unclear whether or in what manner it will be enforced.
Read CRIN’s case study on this case. CRIN’s collection of case studies illustrates how strategic litigation works in practice by asking those involved about their experiences. By sharing these stories we hope to encourage advocates around the world to consider strategic litigation as a means to challenge children’s rights violations.
For more information on the issue of inhuman sentencing of children, including a selection of case law, please see CRIN’s ‘Inhuman sentencing‘ campaign.
This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.