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In March 1996, CESR and the Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC), a Nigeria-based human rights organization, jointly submitted a legal communication to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights regarding economic and social rights violations in the country. The petition broke new ground at the Commission, which had yet to consider any of the economic and social guarantees contained in the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

The petition focused on violations of the rights to health, housing and food in Nigeria's oil-producing region and was intended to: 1) draw attention to the massive environmental and social problems underlying the execution of environmental activist Ken Saro Wiwa and other social justice campaigners; 2) broaden the range of human rights concerns considered by the Commission; and 3) set a precedent for other economic and social rights claims before the African system.

Six years later the African Commission held the former military government of Nigeria responsible for economic, social and cultural rights violations against the Ogoni people in connection with state violence and abuses around oil development in the Niger Delta. The Commission also made recommendations for the state to take remedial action for those violations.