UNODC and UNFPA join forces to protect Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) victims’ rights

To commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights UNODC is running a series of articles over the course of the year connecting our work in Nigeria to these universal principles.


“Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by a competent national tribunal for acts violating the fundamental rights granted to him by the Constitution or by law.”

Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) enshrines the right of every victim of a human rights abuse to an effective remedy for the harm done to them, and as such it creates a requirement for states to ensure that victims are able to access the justice system to seek redress.

One important group for which UNODC is working to ensure access to justice in Nigeria, are the victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Nigeria has witnessed an increase in reports of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) crimes in recent years. This was particularly exacerbated by the lockdown measures introduced in 2020 to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, with a marked increase in SGBV offences also coinciding with new obstacles for victims seeking justice as many Courts also temporarily suspended their operations.

The absence of effective remedies to such violence weakens the multisectoral approach required to prevent and respond to SGBV. Access to justice is fundamental to the protection of women’s rights and makes the realization of all other rights for women and girls possible, including the right to live free from discrimination and inequality.

In response to this national challenge, the Nigerian authorities have stepped up their efforts to ensure that the criminal justice response to SGBV is comprehensive, timely, and compliant with international human rights standards and the rule of law, while also operationalizing important legislation and policy tools, such as the Violence Against Persons’ Prohibition (VAPP) Act, 2015.

The Federal Ministry of Justice (FMoJ) established an SGBV Response Unit in May 2021 to review laws and policies related to SGBV offences with a view to streamlining procedures to ensure access to justice for victims of SGBV - through both prosecution and alternative dispute resolution - and to help build the capacity of prosecutors, judges and law enforcement officers to handle such cases.

In March 2022, the judiciary of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) further built on this initiative by designating six High Court judges to preside over SGBV cases, in order to prioritize the hearing of SGBV cases, to provide tailored protection to victims, and to ensure the effective prosecution of offenders.

Following a request for assistance from the FMoJ’s SGBV Response Unit, UNODC has been collaborating with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to deliver two SGBV-related capacity-building activities for criminal justice practitioners: a training workshop for prosecutors from the SGBV Response Unit, the Lagos Ministry of Justice, public defenders from the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACON), and legal officers from the National Human Rights Commission and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons; and a seminar for State High Court judges, including those newly assigned by the FCT to specialize in this field.

Both activities were designed to enhance the knowledge and skills of practitioners involved in SGBV cases to examine fundamental questions around existing mechanisms related to the collection, admissibility, presentation, and adjudication of evidence (confessional, circumstantial, medical, and forensic) in court.

In addition, the activities provided an opportunity to examine and promote a practical understanding of how to ensure access to justice for survivors of abuse through a survivor-centred criminal justice system, and to encourage the exchange and development of constructive ideas and suggestions for addressing key practical challenges relating to the handling of SGBV cases.

None of this work would have been possible without the financial support of  the United States Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), which has been funding UNODC’s project to Strengthen the Capacity of Nigeria to Collect Evidence and More Effectively Prosecute Terrorism and Other Serious Crimes with Respect for the Rule of Law for the past three years. It wasunder the auspices of this project that the training was delivered.

Ensuring access to justice for the victims of serious crimes, including SGBV, is a critical component of UNODC’s Strategic Vision for Nigeria, which in turn is an apposite example of how the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted seventy-five years ago, continue to guide the UN’s work in the field to this day.