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Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2003

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What steps the Government are taking to press the Nigerian Government to prevent the stoning to death of Amina Lawal for adultery. [111607]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Bill Rammell)

:First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she has done to raise this appalling case. The Government and our EU partners regularly raise our concerns about this case with the appropriate authorities in Nigeria. Indeed, my noble Friend the Minister for Africa, Baroness Amos, expressed to President Obasanjo our concern about the harsh sentences imposed under the sharia penal codes, and emphasised the strength of feeling against them in the UK.

:The Nigerian state court will hear Amina's case on 3 June. Both Muslims and non-Muslims in my constituency have told me how appalled they are at Nigeria's interpretation of sharia law, which is in flagrant violation of the UN torture convention. They are also concerned about the other Nigerian women facing death by stoning who have not received the same international publicity and who do not have legal representation. Are the Government making equal efforts to raise those cases too? Human rights need to be protected, wherever people are.

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. We take every opportunity to raise all cases in which this extreme interpretation of sharia law is used, and we will continue to do so. I reassure my hon. Friend that, through our high commission, we also maintain close contact with the national human rights commission in Nigeria, and the non-governmental organisations. In that way, we will get advance warning in cases such as this, and that will allow us to do everything in our power to apply the maximum pressure.

The integrity and good intentions of the Minister are not in dispute, but what indication has he had that the representations that he and his noble Friend Baroness Amos have made about the proposed barbaric penalty will, in practice, be heeded?

:I take comfort from the fact that the Nigerian Attorney-General has made clear his view that the cases will ultimately be ruled unconstitutional in the federal court. We should none the less continue to apply pressure on an issue that is of serious concern across the House.