Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Sharia law in Nigeria

Delivered in Plenary - March 13th 2003

Madam President,

Amina Lawal, an illiterate 31-year old Nigerian woman, is preparing to face death for the crime of adultery. She claims she was raped by a friend and subsequently she bore a child. The sentence of death by stoning, which is carried out by burying her alive up to her neck and then inviting onlookers to stone her, was delayed until after the birth of her child. There are claims by locals that members of the local Sharia Court which tried her, have themselves had adulterous relationships which on occasions have resulted in the birth of children.

Sharia has recently been introduced in parts of Nigeria as part of a process of Islamicisation. Christian groups have been critical of the Nigerian Government's failure to affirm that such punishments are contrary to the federal constitution, although President Obasanjo has said that he will weep if the verdict is carried out. The sentence has been delayed until 2004 to allow her to wean her child.

Nigeria will unquestionably be in my opinion in violation of a number of international treaty obligations including the Convention against Torture and the UN Convenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is a signatory. Even in Iran, there has been no stoning for almost two years now, with the most senior judge recently declaring the punishment illegal.

This is not about the death penalty per se, which remains legal in international law for the most serious crimes. It is about a disproportionate and gratuitously cruel punishment against a young mother. It is not a feminist issue either. Nigeria must understand that its relationship with the civilised world will not remain the same if the sentence is carried out and I for one will advocate expulsion from the Commonwealth and an immediate programme of selective sanctions and travel bans on Nigeria's leaders.

I would also call on the Greek presidency of the Council to summon the Nigerian Ambassador and make plain to him the feelings we hold so strongly in this House against such an unjust punishment.