Social and Economic Rights Action Center & the Center for Economic and Social Rights v. Nigeria (Communication No. 155/96)

Communication alleging violation of Articles 2, 4, 14, 16, 18(1), 21, 24 and the rights to food and shelter/housing implicit in the charter ;  obligations imposed by ESC under African charter; state obligations in relation to state actors; content of implicit rights to food and shelter/housing; violation of rights of ‘peoples.'

Date of the Ruling: 
May 27 2002
African Commission on Human and People's Rights
Type of Forum: 

The communication alleged that the military government of Nigeria was guilty of, amongst other things, violations of the right to health, the right to dispose of wealth and natural resources, the right to a clean environment and family rights, due to its condoning and facilitating the operations of oil corporations in Ogoniland.  

When describing the obligations engendered by Charter rights, the Commission employed the typology of “respect, protect, promote, and fulfil” and recognised that in many situations the need to ensure the meaningful enjoyment of socio-economic rights will require action from the state in terms of more than one of the different duties.

The Commission ruled that the Ogoni had suffered violations of their right to health (Article 16) and right to a right to a general satisfactory environment favourable to development (Article 24) due to the government's failure to prevent pollution and ecological degradation.  It held further that the State's failure to monitor oil activities and involve local communities in decisions violated the right of the Ogoni people to freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources (Article 21), although it did not provide a definition of a ‘people'.  The Commission suggested that a failure to provide material benefits for the Ogoni people was also a violation.   

The Commission also held that the implied right to housing (including protection from forced eviction), which is derived from the express rights to property, health and family, was violated by the destruction of housing and harassment of residents who returned to rebuild their homes.  Finally, destruction and contamination of crops by government and non-state actors violated the duty to respect and protect the implied right to food.

The Commission issued orders to cease attacks on the Ogoni people, to investigate and prosecute those responsible for attacks, to provide compensation to victims, to prepare environmental and social impact assessments in the future and to provide information on health and environmental risks.

Keywords: Social and Economic Rights Action Center & the Center for Economic and Social Rights v. Nigeria. Cited as: Communication No. 155/96, Indegenous People, Right

Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes: 

Despite the progressive nature of this decision, there had not been any enforcement years after the recommendations were issued.

Groups involved in the case: 

Mr. Felix Morka B. The Social and Economic Action Rights Centre C. 16 Awori Crescent D. Off Coker Road/Obokun Street E. Illupeju F. P.O. Box 13616 G. Ikeja, Lagos H. Nigeria I. J. Email: Center for Economic and Social Rights 162 Montague Street 3rd Floor Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA Tel: (718) 237-9145 Fax: (718) 237-9147 E-mail:

Significance of the Case: 

The case is significant as, in it, the Commission fleshed out the negative and positive obligations imposed on states by Article 16, 24 and 21 as well as the implied rights to food and housing/shelter. Another interesting aspect is the fact that the Commission stated that governments have a duty to protect their citizens by protecting them from damaging acts that may be perpetrated by private parties and that this duty calls for positive action on part of governments. An additional positive aspect of the decision was the Commission's recognition that the rights expressly set out in the Charter are not exhaustive of the rights protected by it. This case lay the groundwork for subsequent, innovative human rights argumentation by advancing the recognition that oil extraction and processing resulted in effects on a range of human rights (life, housing, health, food, water, etc.), which interacted with each other to produce far-reaching damages to the lands and livelihoods of the Ogoni people.

Overall, though, the principal impact from the African Commission ruling involves the recognition of the Ogoni people. While they constitute a minority ethnic group in a country where the political system largely reflects ethnic affiliations, the Ogoni have increasingly been recognized by the Federal Government as a force to be reckoned with, as recently as March of 2014, when the former leader of MOSOP was invited to attend an exclusive National Conference. It has also reinforced increasingly successful efforts by Ogoni leaders to organize community members to demand justice for the crimes they have experienced. On January 4, 2014, “Ogoni Day” was celebrated in the Niger Delta by over 50,000 people who came together in a peaceful demonstration to demand full respect for their human rights.