A civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has requested Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Mrs. Fatou Bensouda, to investigate allegations of collective punishment and crimes against humanity against tens of thousands of Nigerian workers as a result of non-payment of their salaries for several months.
In the petition dated July 7, 2016 and signed by SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organisation said it was seriously concerned that non-payment of workers’ salaries by several state governments in Nigeria had made life impossible for the workers and their families.
It urge the ICC to bring to justice anyone who is responsible for the inhumane acts committed against Nigerian workers and prohibited under the Rome Statute of the ICC to which Nigeria is a state party.
The petition reads in part: “SERAP contends that severe deprivation and mental or physical health challenges faced by Nigerian workers as a result of the non-payment of their salaries fulfil the requirements of this provision.
This means that individual liability may attach to governors who continue to hide under the excuse of ‘limited allocations from Abuja’ to deny these workers the fruit of their labour.
“The state governors ought to know that their actions and/or omissions would likely cause serious physical or mental suffering or a serious attack upon the human dignity of workers whose salaries are not paid.”
“Non-payment of salaries for several months have reduced Nigerian workers to ‘bare life’, or life not worth living, thus taking away their human dignity.
The inhumanity of the non-payment of workers’ salaries is illustrated by the serious threats this poses to the workers’ physical and mental health, and family life as well as their ability to contribute to the development of the country.
The non-payment of salaries has created an environment of powerlessness for several workers and perpetuated a system of impunity in many states.
“Article 7(1)(k) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court criminalises other inhumane acts intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health. The treatment of many workers in several states reaches the level of ‘inhumane acts’ covered under this provision.
“Serious and systematic levels of inhuman and degrading treatment have expressly been recognised as qualifying as other ‘inhumane acts’.
The same applies to the deprivation of adequate standard of living of thousands of workers such as adequate food, shelter, and medical care as a result of the non-payment of their salaries.
“In the present case, the inhumane acts include non-payment of salaries of workers; failure of governors to use their executive authority to ensure a viable and corruption-free state, failure to provide the necessary administrative, financial and political conditions to facilitate prompt and timely payment of workers’ salaries.
“To the extent that these acts expose tens of thousands of workers to inhumane acts while denying them the ability to challenge the legality of the action by the state governments, the acts can only be seen as a course of conduct involving the commission of inhumane acts.
“SERAP believes that the non-payment of salaries of workers amounts to a serious attack on human dignity covered in the definition of ‘other inhumane acts’ under the Rome Statute, and fit within the ICC’s mandate.
The gravity of non-payment of workers’ salaries for several months should not be dismissed a priori as lesser than that of the radically egregious acts the ICC has so far prosecuted.
“SERAP argues that to deprive workers of their salaries is to deprive them of their livelihoods and basic necessities to the right to life and human dignity, and to and cause them suffering of sufficient gravity and severity comparable to enumerated acts of crimes against humanity under article 7 of the Rome Statute.
Because no person can live without the means of living, the non-payment of workers’ salaries has affected individuals’ well-being and prevented them from enjoying basic necessities of life and caused great suffering to them and their family members.
“International human rights law requires states to protect the rights of workers including to timely payment of salaries.
The ICC can and should exercise its mandates under the Rome Statute to enforce these internationally recognised human rights by holding individual governors accountable for the crimes against humanity committed against many Nigerian workers.
“Nigerian workers have for many years been victims of particularly heinous violations of international human rights law caused by massive looting of public treasury and mismanagement by high-ranking public officials.”“
SERAP is seriously concerned that several state governments in Nigeria are failing and/or refusing to pay workers’ salaries, amounting to billions of naira in arrears.
The state governments that have failed and/or refused to pay workers’ salaries include: Bayelsa, Benue, Bauchi, Osun, Rivers, Oyo, Ekiti, Kwara, Kogi, Ondo, and Plateau States.”
“SERAP also contends that the gross violations of human rights and deplorable standard of living of many workers and their families in several states of Nigeria are grave and therefore suggest reasonable grounds justifying a preliminary investigation by the ICC prosecutor.
“Alongside investigating mass atrocity, the prosecutor should seek to investigate those crimes such as gross, systematic and widespread violations of workers’ right to timely payment of salaries that fall under the Rome Statute provision on “other inhumane acts” but remain unacknowledged as grave violations of human rights.
“Investigating violations of workers’ right to timely payment of salaries will allow the ICC to realise a broad notion of complementarity, as it will enable the prosecutor to provide justice to the workers that many of the states in Nigeria are unwilling or unable to protect.”