The United Nations Committee against Torture (UN-CAT) is worried by “militarization of policing activities” by Nigeria through joint operations, saying this was reported during the #ENDSARS protest at Lekki on October 20, 2020 and the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Committee also stated that it is “deeply concerned at allegations of gross-misconduct by the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force,” even as it also expressed concern at “reports on the continuous use of torture in interrogations by police, military and civilian joint task force officers (CJTF).”

In its latest report on torture in Nigeria, UN-CAT commended “ongoing efforts to reform the police, the enactment of the Police Act and the revision of the Police Force Order 237 incorporating international standards,” but stated that it is concerned at reports of excessive use of force, “including lethal force by shooting leading to extrajudicial killings, during arrests or policing the demonstrations.”

It noted that the “growing militarization of policing activities” led to 38 complaints of extrajudicial killings recorded by the National Human Rights Commission, or other demonstrations having been held in south-eastern states, adding that “The Committee is deeply concerned at allegations of gross-misconduct by the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force.”

While noting Nigeria’s commissioning of the National Human Rights Commission to conduct investigations, establishing judicial panels of inquiries at federal and states level, and the disbandment of SARS, the Committee “observes that the judicial panels received reportedly 2,500 complaints on torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and extrajudicial killings, but remains concerned that no reports on investigations have been made public, accompanied by the lack of accountability.”

It noted that some of the panels reportedly stopped sitting due to lack of funding, adding that the “Committee is also concerned at: the use of 2014 legislation by the police against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons to legitimize arbitrary arrest and detention, among others; at reports of arbitrary detention without criminal charge or conviction and ill-treatment of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities in public institutions and private settings, including religious and traditional healing centres; and, ill-treatment inflicted on drug users particularly by members of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and in the drug rehabilitation facilities (arts. 1, 2, 11-14 and 16).”

The Committee urged the Federal Government to “Ensure that law enforcement and security forces personnel continue to receive training on the absolute prohibition of torture and on the use of force, including the Police Force Order 237, taking into account the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials;

“Make the findings of the established judicial panels of inquiries public and immediately investigate allegations of abuses committed by police, SARS officers, and security forces employed in the policing activities, by an independent body and provide disaggregated information on prosecutions, full redress of victims, and resources allocated for that purpose;

“Stop and investigate arbitrary detentions and assaults against persons with disabilities, drug users or LGBTI persons and investigate those incidents, prosecute alleged perpetrators and provide effective remedies to the victims.”

Turning to inadmissibility of confessions obtained under torture, the UN-CAT welcomed legislation prohibiting the admission of confessions obtained under torture (the Anti-Torture Act, the Evidence Act, and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act). It however expressed concern at reports on the “continuous use of torture in interrogations by police, military and civilian joint task force officers (CJTF).”

It noted that “Despite the existing legal safeguards, including recording of confessions” or possibility to complain about duress before a judge, “numerous reports highlight that coerced confessions are accepted in practice contrary to the law. The Committee regrets that no solid information has been provided by the State party about the application of these legal safeguards by judges in practice (arts. 2, 10 and 15).”

The Committee urged the Federal Government to “Adopt effective measures to ensure that confessions, statements and other evidence obtained through torture or ill-treatment are not admitted in evidence in practice, except against persons accused of committing torture, as evidence that the statement was made under duress, and that prosecutors and judges ask all defendants in criminal cases whether they were tortured or ill-treated, that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment raised in judicial proceedings in the State party are promptly and effectively investigated and alleged perpetrators prosecuted and punished; Provide information on cases, where this has been applied.”

According to the Committee, the Federal Government should “Ensure that all police officers, national security officers and military, judges and public prosecutors receive mandatory training emphasizing the link between non-coercive interrogation techniques, the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and the obligation of the judiciary to invalidate confessions made under torture.”

The Committee against Torture is a United Nations body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by its State parties. The Committee against Torture is composed of 10 independent experts who are persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights. The Committee is currently chaired by Mr. Claude Heller.

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Amnesty International and human rights advocates have warned that unless there is accountability for mass killings in Nigeria, the trend will not stop.

Rising from the 2020 Annual Lecture of the Molluma Medico-Legal Centre held recently at House of Justice, Kaduna, the panelists noted that survivors, victims and communities affected by mass killings deserve empathy from government as well as dignity and closure. The theme of the lecture was “From atrocity to closure: Managing victims and deploying forensics in the aftermath of mass killings”

Country Director of Amnesty International in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, decried the acceptance of impunity and lack of accountability for mass killings in Nigeria. Ojigho, who was on the panel of discussants, referred to cycles of killings and reprisals by terror groups and security forces or in so-called inter-communal clashes and regretted the seeming lack of interest on the part of the Nigerian government to bring these cycles to an end.

She gave the example of the massacre of Shiites in Zaria, Kaduna State, in December 2015 where security forces were involved in the mass killing and disappearance of hundreds with no consequences and no closure for the families despite the recommendations of a judicial commission of inquiry.

Ojigho underscored the importance of the “right to truth”, pointing out that truth has often times been caught in between a citizenry who demand accountability and government officials who disdain the kind of work that groups like Amnesty do in pursuit of truth about mass killings.

The keynote speaker at the lecture was world-renowned geneticist, Mishel Stephenson, representing Fredy Peccerelli, Executive Director of the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (GAFG). Ms. Stephenson called attention to the needs of families affected by mass killings and disappearances and underscored the obligation of government to address these needs.

Her words: “Families affected by such killings or disappearances usually have a diverse range of emotions, needs and priorities, such as locating the bodies of their loved ones, knowing the cause of death (right to truth), according their loved ones a burial, finding closure or ensuring justice. The skills required to fulfill these needs are multi-disciplinary, and include genetics, anthropology and psycho-social support. Forensic genetics helps in identifying the bodies when they are located and could also help in prosecution of alleged perpetrators or bringing to justice persons behind mass atrocities for the purpose of truth and justice.”

Stephenson revealed that in Guatemala, the work of the FAFG has helped to locate over 3,500 victims and to bring many people, including a former President of the country, to justice. According to her, the families and communities of victims are the real victims and the driving force behind investigations of this nature.

She warned that investigating mass killings takes time, effort and could be excruciating but is the only way that the collective dignity and humanity of both victims and survivors could be validated.

Drawing from the experience of Indian-Administered Kashmir, Khurram Parvez, a panelist and Chair of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances stressed the obligation of government to protect its citizens and communities, pointing out that quite apart from their impact on individuals and families, mass killings also undermine bonds of coexistence and faith in institutions. Mr. Parvez explained the importance of ensuring effective documentation of such crimes even when it is not immediately evident that any prosecutions will take place. In Kashmir, he disclosed, they have worked to document over 6,700 mass killings and mass graves.

Another discussant, Abiodun Baiyewu, Executive Director of Global Rights said closure would be much easier to achieve if government were to show empathy and sincerity in investigating mass killings and bringing their perpetrators to justice. “…this is the most effective way to break the cycle of atrocities and reprisals. When this does not happen, atrocities and impunity can be said to be ‘state-backed’, “she argued

Ahmed Salkida, Editor-in-Chief, “HumAngle” and foremost conflict reporter from Nigeria, argued that mass killings and massacres will continue as long as government and its agencies neglect their primary duty which is to protect the citizens and their communities. He complained that in Nigeria, government deploys effective assets to protect property but often behaves as if its people are expendable. “The government must choose its citizens over properties”, said Mr. Salkida.

Advocate, Peter Kiama, Executive Director of Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) in Kenya, who was also a panelist at the event argued that mass killings do not occur by accident but are enabled by government policies which means that policies can also be made to curb or eradicate them. He also called attention to the need to address the trauma needs of survivors who are often affected in ways that society and government are unwilling or unable to pay attention to.

Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, who chairs International Advisory Board of the Molluma Medico-Legal Centre added that it is important for families to have closure and to be able to locate and identify the remains of their loved ones and that could be made possible if citizens and government learn to count and account for each other. Citing the examples from both Guatemala and Kashmir, Dr. Odinkalu underscored the importance for attention to detail, documentation and dignity in responding to mass killings. ‘All these require patience and time’, he said.

Participation in the lecture came from over 30 countries, including Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States. They included former Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Justice K.B Akaahs, former Attorney-General of Kaduna State, Zakari Sogfa; Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ghana at Legon, Professor Raymond Atuguba; and Head of Advocacy in Christian Solidarity World-wide (CSW), Dr. Khataza Gondwe.

Executive Director of the Molluma Medico-Legal Centre, Gloria Mabeiam Ballason, said that the 2020 lecture was necessary to empower citizens to put pressure on Nigeria’s federal government to ensure accountability for the instigators, sponsors, perpetrators, catalysts and enablers of the mass killing that now characterize the country. “These killings will not stop until no one benefits from them”, Ballason noted, concluding that Guatemala is a great example of the power in citizenship movements.

Commissioned in 2014, the Molluma Yakubu Medico-Legal Centre works to ensure accountability for victims of medical crimes and mass atrocities, and to give victims dignity even in death. The Centre is located in Kaduna, Nigeria. The 2020 lecture is the third in series.

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