Litigation to Reform Domestic Violence Laws, Nigeria

Litigation to Reform Domestic Violence Laws, Nigeria

Members of Lawyers Against Poverty voted to fund strategic litigation, resulting in stronger protections for victims of domestic violence in Nigeria.

On 17 May 2018, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (the Court of Justice) ruled in favour of the complainants in ECW/CCJ/APP/26/15 – WARDC and IHRDA (on behalf of Mary Sunday v Nigeria, marking a key milestone for victims of domestic violence survivors.


Mary Sunday was a victim of violent attack by her fiancée. A Case was held on behalf of Mary by the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) and the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC).

In August 2012, Mary was attacked and beaten by her fiancé, sustaining multiple and severe injuries and burns (she was set on fire by a stove he had thrown over her head and body). Because her fiancé was a serving police officer, police inquiries into the incident manifestly were not carried out in an impartial and independent manner and concluded that she had intentionally inflicted the injuries upon herself. Her fiancé was never charged.

Support from Lawyers Against Poverty

Lawyers Against Poverty supported the case with a donation from members of $30,000. IHRDA and the WARDC submitted that the failure of state authorities effectively to investigate the allegations and prosecute the perpetrator constituted a violation of the victim’s rights under (inter alia) the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Maputo Protocol, including the rights to dignity and freedom from torture, the right to a remedy and the right to freedom from discrimination.


The Court of Justice held that Nigeria had violated the right to an effective remedy as well as the right of access to justice and the right to be heard (although, not the right to freedom from discrimination). It ordered Nigeria to pay Mary compensation of 15 million Naira (approximately $41,500).

The case affirms the principle that states are required to prevent violations by non-state actors, safeguard vulnerable individuals, investigate and prosecute perpetrators and compensate victims. Our hope is that it will make material advances in enforcing the rule of law, increasing state accountability and ending police impunity for violence against women and other offences.