2013: Justine Ijeomah
“Innocent people are arrested, tortured, executed or disappear. In my country, human rights are violated on a regular basis.”
Justine Ijeomah is the businessman who founded the organisation HURSDEF, Human Rights Social Development and Environmental Foundation. In 2013, he was awarded the Per Anger Prize for his struggle for human rights in Nigeria.
The rule of law is weak in Nigeria, and Amnesty International has issued reports of systematic police violence, without those responsible being brought to justice. Unlawful arrests, extrajudicial executions and disappearances are relatively common. Justine Ijeomah founded his organisation in 2008 and has since then risked his own life to work for human rights in his native city of Port Harcourt.
Interview with Justine Ijeomah:
How did you come to start working for human rights?
- For me, it started when I saw how people in the street were treated. I saw how the police stopped their cars and arrested people who happened to walk by. They were taken to the station on no grounds. I still see it happen every day; on my way to work, on the way home, wherever I am. Those who are arrested are told how much they have to pay to be set free. There is no reason for their arrest and only the poor get treated in this way. The rich have resources to hire the best attorneys.
Justine Ijeomah and his organisation intervene when innocent people are arrested, demand investigations into disappearances and are present at court hearings. By their presence at police stations, they lessen the risk of beatings taking place. Those who are arrested are often street children, who completely lack protection. This work with street children is particularly engaging to Justine Ijeomah.
- One boy was arrested five times. I have personally involved myself in his release from prison. Five times he has been arrested and tortured without cause. I was on my way home when I got a telephone call about him being arrested again. Nobody represents a street child. He had nobody else, so I had to go to the police station that night. The only money I had was enough for travel money. He hadn’t eaten anything, so I bought food and realised in that instance that I would have to walk home on foot. But he looked at me as if I was his father, and I felt I had to offer him whatever fatherly protection I could.
Justine Ijeomah demanded the boy’s discharge and managed to have him relased.
- This is the reason I carry on with my work. The little child who has no hope, who is completely dependent on you, it would be devastating to give up.
Justine Ijeomah has himself been arrested any number of times. He has been subjected to torture and several murder attempts. Periodically, he has been forced to move, go underground, in order to save his own life.
- The situation was terrible before, the police and authorities have used every possible method to intimidate me. One time they repeatedly beat my head against a concrete wall so I got a skull fracture. I have a serious head injury. That experience really marked me, and it motivates me to continue the struggle.
Are you scared?
- No, I am not scared. The can’t scare me. This is due to the power of what I have done, the support from people and all the love I have received.
How do you get strength and motivation to carry on?
- I get it from my determination to fight for the oppressed. When I fight for freedom, I become motivated. What strengthens me is that I am fighting what I hate. That gives me energy.
What is your security situation like today?
- The prize has changed my life, it has raised the status of our organisation and encouraged me tremendously. It gave me the energy to work twice as much, and I know that my work is not in vain. We have received international attention and much publicity in the media. The number of threats against me has dropped significantly. Now they know that if something happens to me, the world will react. What gives me joy is helping others, I love it. I have a dream of a better society, and if I can contribute to a better world, I will.
The Living History Forum wishes to note that these interviews are based on the personal testimonies of the prize winners. It is not an objective, factual account by the authorities.
Since 2008, HURSDEF (Human Rights Social Development and Environmental Foundation) strives to increase human rights in Nigeria and to improve the environment.
Justine Ijeomah received the Per Anger Prize for 2013 and was nominated by Amnesty International.
The citation of the jury for the Per Anger Prize
“For having persistently fought against human rights abuses, especially among the poor and poorly educated, in a context of brutal police violence as well as beatings, death threats and murder attempts, and for doggedly working to abolish the death penalty, Justine Ijeomah of Nigeria is awarded the Per Anger Prize for 2013.”
The Living History Forum works with schools to engage students in issues of human rights.
For exercises, more info about Nigeria:
Interview with Justine Ijeomah about his project Human Rights Passport.