UN Rapporteur Accuses Nigeria Of Gross Human Rights Violations, FG Says Report’s Disappointing

The Federal Government is presiding over an injustice ‘pressure-cooker,’ says a preliminary report by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard.

The report follows her 12-day fact-finding visit to the country between August 19 to September 3, regretted that spate of  extrajudicial killings, biases,  injustices, no access to justice and unlawful detentions have not changed for the better since 2006.

Aimed at examining situations of violations of the right to life by state and non-state actors; federal state security strategy and the responses at federal and state levels to allegations of arbitrary deprivation of life, Callamard said some of the specific contexts examined were simmering, adding that the warning signs were flashing bright red.

However, the Federal Government has responded saying that they are disappointed with the conclusions reached in the report. Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu in a statement said “We have read press reports of the UN rapporteur on violence in Nigeria. While we agree that the violence in Nigeria, or in any country, is a major concern and that there is a rippling effect, we are disappointed that the rapporteur was silent on intra-group violence.

“In Benue, Taraba, Cross River States and many parts of the country, most of the casualties result from intra-group, inter-group and community violence. Many of the displaced persons across the nation are also victims of these conflicts.

“There is absolutely no doubt that violence between farmers and herders, which has a long history in our country spiked in recent years but the effectiveness with which the Federal and State authorities responded made a big difference. Calm has virtually returned to all parts affected by the peculiar violence.

“Therefore, we are saddened that the rapporteur did not address intra-ethnic conflicts and cattle rustling as key elements in herder/farmer conflicts. In Benue State for instance, the Tiv/Jukun conflict and kidnapping is a major problem. We are glad that local communities have fully realized this, and scholars with a strong motivation for peace and stability in their communities and the nation are trying to address the problem.

“Ignoring the salient issues will not help to solve the problem. If you are going to address violence and the general insecurity in Nigeria, incidents everywhere should be part of the narrative. Not addressing this might make it easier to blame the Federal Government, but national peace and security is community based and a collective responsibility.

Arrests, prosecution and locking people up are only small parts of National Security and Safety strategy.”

Shehu cited some conflict areas and nature of those conflicts to buttress his point: “In Benue State as cited earlier, the work of a US scholar of Tiv extraction, Professor Dick Adzenge deserves special mention for attempting to get aspects of violence addressed. The expectation that arresting and putting people in prison is the only credible response to violence is a mistake. Professor Adzenge and a few others like him are working with young people, traditional rulers and communities to seek peaceful resolution of conflicts and encourage peaceful co-existence.

“The sort of effort we are talking about here has so far revealed interesting facts about the problem in Benue State that cannot be ignored.

“And it is the sort of support we seek from the UN rapporteur in reporting, not the report that scratches the surface of the subject then ends up blaming the government under the able leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari. The UN representative needs to be truthful and even-handed in her assignment,” he concluded.

Meanwhile in Borno State, the report claimed that estimated causality as a result of Boko Haram/splinter groups violence was between 26,0004 to 37,500 since 2011, adding that about 1.7 million people were displaced and 7.7 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

“According to the UN Secretary-General’s report on Children and Armed Conflict, in 2017 alone, a total of 881 children were killed in Nigeria; 620 attributed to Boko Haram and 261 to the Nigerian Security Forces. In the days preceding my visit to the State of Borno (Maiduguri) further attacks had occurred, in Gubio and Magumeri, causing casualties whose numbers are unknown as of today.

As many as 341,000 new displacements were recorded in 2018. The Boko Haram insurgency continues to be the biggest driver of displacement in Nigeria.

“The current military strategy consists in the creation of “garrison towns” in which people are screened, some detained, while others are housed in consolidated “super camps”. With the exception of these towns and super camps, the state’s territory seemingly is emptied out in an effort to break up Boko Haram’s supply routes and making it impossible for the group to rely on local communities for their food and fighters.

“The strategy is criticised because of the unknown numbers of civilians who remain in inaccessible areas; the lack of protection afforded to them against Boko Haram attacks; and, the likely assumption that all those remaining are likely supporters of the insurgents.

“The number of allegations of arbitrary killings and deaths in custody at the hands of the military forces has decreased over the last two years, a positive development which should be properly examined for learning purposes. However, there has been little progress reported in the securing of accountability and reparations for past massive violations of international human rights or humanitarian law,” she said.

She said the report was based on account of victims, witnesses, state and non-state agencies in the human right and criminal justice sector, adding that some of the people she spoke to across the places visited narrated how security forces killed their loved ones or failed to protect them despite being notified of impending attacks.

Callamard said the people also accused security forces of failure to investigate and prosecute killings which were the root causes of widespread loss of trust and confidence and was leading to a proliferation of (vigilante) self-protecting armed militia that in turn fuel jungle justice.

The report also blamed the lack of accountability, functionality and poverty for the country-wide patterns of violence including terrorism in the northeast, cultism/militancy in the south, banditry and farmers-herders conflicts in the northwest and middle belt as well as secession moves by agitators in the east among others.

“Increased numbers of attacks and killings over the last five years with a few notable exceptions; increased criminality and spreading insecurity; widespread failure by the federal authorities to investigate and hold perpetrators to account, even for mass killings; a lack of public trust and confidence in the judicial institutions and state institutions more generally; high levels of resentment and grievances within and between communities; toxic ethno-religious narratives and “extremist” ideologies – characterised by dehumanisation of the “others” and denial of the legitimacy of the others’ claims; a generalised break down of the rule of law, with particularly acute consequences for the most vulnerable and impoverished populations of Nigeria.

“The military conflict in the North of the country, against Boko Haram and splinter groups; the conflict in the Middle Belt, along with some parts in the northwest and south, between Fulani herdsmen and farming communities belonging to various ethnic groups; cultism in the oil-producing south states and other well-organised criminal gangs; local militias engaged in mining and cattle rustling in the North West, particularly Zamfara;

“The repression of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), and the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP); the mass expulsion of slum dwellers in Lagos and elsewhere and more generally greed motivated policies and interventions resulting in killings.

“Country-wide patterns include police and military excessive use of lethal force in violation of applicable international standards, the lack of effective investigations, the absence of meaningful prosecution, the militarisation of policing- all of which are compounded by the lack of transparency and effective communication strategy over the vast majority of security issues, fuelling further distrust and break down of confidence in the security agencies.  

“The Federal State contains these sub-systems of violence by relying largely on military and securitisation strategies.  In some settings, these may have halted the progress of the insecurity at least on the surface and reduced the rates of killings (e.g. in the North East). However, in many others, the security response appears to have only added new grievances and fostered further distrust, without either curbing insecurity or better protecting the local population, particularly those living in isolated areas. This includes the conflict in the Middle Belt for instance. In yet other eco-political systems of violence, the security response is dangerously quasi-prospective, with individuals, communities and associations actively targeted for what they may have done decades ago, or for what they may do or may become, rather than for what they are doing or have done (e.g. members of the IMN, IPOB).

Throughout the country, the securitisation strategy has also been used by local power-holders to enforce arbitrary and unlawful policies, decisions and action, such as the mass expulsion of city-dwellers living at the margins, to give way to money-making condominium or other private-public developments. Security responses lacking in fairness or justice are exacerbating the weaknesses of the policing and judicial institutions which lack the strength to resist the increasing pressure under which they are placed by virtue of the increasing criminality, conflicts and security hot-points,” said Callamard.

With the official final report billed for presentation before the UN Human Rights Council in June next year, Callamard said her findings revealed Nigeria was not implementing the 2030 Agenda which aims at reaching the furthest behind first.

“Exploring this objective from the standpoint of my mandate, I have found no signs that those the furthest behind are prioritised by the state or in any way brought along the SDG journey, at least as that journey pertains to the right to life and to the rule of law. Instead, the poorest and most impoverished Nigerians seem unable to access justice, remedies or reparations for arbitrary killings, while impunity flourishes and the rule of law remains tenuous,” she said.

While noting that the extent and level of arbitrary deprivation of life in the North East, including arbitrary killings by security forces seem to have reduced since 2016, the report said accountability for violations in the course of the conflict against Boko Haram has not been delivered.

“The decreasing number of allegations in 2018 and 2019 is a positive development which ought to be further examined, including for the purpose of identifying the lessons. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has become over time a strong institution that has delivered important work. Its full independence must continue to be respected and additional resources provided so that it can work to the full extent of its mandate.

“I have met within each federal and state-level institutions committed staff prepared to deliver human rights protection. The country benefits as well from a vibrant civil society supporting the most vulnerable segments of the population, including in their quest for justice. With a committed political leadership and with political will, much could be accomplished to address these concerns,” she stated.

Callamard said there were gross allegations of arbitrary arrest and extrajudicial killings against security forces contrary to the report of the military’s Special Board of Inquiry (SIB) set up in March 2017.

She said: “Information about violations of international human rights and humanitarian violations that I have received during the mission include the following: In March 2014, at least 640 recaptured detainees from Giwa barrack were killed by soldiers of the Nigerian Army. On 1 March, 2018, the corpses of 28 men were brought to the mortuary; their bodies showing evidence of gunshot wounds. The men had reportedly been shot after a screening in Bama LGA.

“Towards the end of 2018, two men (their identity is known) were allegedly extrajudicially killed near the village Lega Kura in Mafa LGA.

“Older incidents include the killing of up to 200 civilians and the destruction of Duguri town (Borno state) by the Multinational Joint Task Force, on 15 February 2012; the killing of approximately 200 people by soldiers of the Multinational Joint Task Force in Baga (Borno state) on 17 April, 2013 and the killing of 35 men in Bama (Borno state) on 23 July 2013.

“On 17 January, 2017, the Nigerian Air Force bombed Rann IDP camp, set up by the Nigerian military while a humanitarian food distribution was underway. More than 150 people were wounded and reportedly more than 200 were killed, including three humanitarian workers. It has been alleged that between 2011 and 2013 some 7,000 detainees died in military detention centres as a result of starvation, thirst, disease, torture and lack of medical attention.

“I met several children who had been subjected to detention, some for as long as 18 months, detained along with adults, when they were no more than 8 years old. In one such incident in Gumche Village (Mafa local authority), some 40 men, women, boys and girls (number is very approximate) were arrested. This included at least five male children. “Of these 40 persons, one child and one adult died. The women and children were released after 18 months. The children were sent to hospital before their release. It is alleged that all the men were transferred to Kahinji Barrack.

“Several women reported to me that more than 1,200 men detained by the military during operations in Bama (Borno State) between June and December 2015 remained in military custody and without access to their families and legal representatives. These women have formed a group the KNIFAR Movement to agitate for the release and/or information on their loved ones.

“Boko Haram intentionally killed and maimed thousands of civilians in attacks throughout the State of Borno and in parts of the States of Adamawa and Yobe. In 2017, Boko Haram carried out at least 65 attacks causing 411 civilian deaths.

“It has been alleged by a number of sources that Islamic State West Africa may have adopted a “heart and mind” strategy and is only targeting the security forces and not civilians. However, they recently were responsible for the killing of two ICRC midwives – Saifura Hussaini Ahmed Khorsa in September 2018 and Hauwa Liman in October 2018. They are still holding health worker Alice Loksha who was abducted alongside them.”

She described as unacceptable, the alleged criminalisation of humanitarian work by the United States and collective punishment of civilians.

“It was brought to my attention that humanitarian agencies in receipt of US funds are required by the US government to certify that none of their goods or services including food will end up in the hands of those residing outside government-controlled areas, on the grounds that those people may be “terrorists”.

“Only one UN’s humanitarian agency (UNICEF) has refused to sign the clause with the result that their warehouses will run out of ready-to-use food by October and their health facilities will not be able to operate as of November. I cannot emphasise strongly enough that such policies violate established principles of international humanitarian and human rights law and could amount to the deliberate starving of populations on the grounds of association,” she said.

Callamard accused the government of not taking concrete steps to address the issues, noting that over 20 probe panels have been established to investigate allegations of abuses against security forces but none has ever been made public.

“The government has acknowledged in 2016 that “in the course of security operations against Boko Haram in North-East Nigeria and recently in the context of countering militant and separatist groups like the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and the Niger Delta Avengers, the Nigerian Military have been accused of extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrarily arrest and detention”. The report further states that all allegations of torture, extrajudicial killings and war crimes made against the Nigerian Military will be investigated.

“On August 11, 2017, a Presidential Investigation Panel (PIP) to Review Compliance of the Armed Forces with Human Rights Obligations and Rules of Engagement was established to investigate the military’s compliance with human rights obligations and rules of engagement across the country. From September 7 to October 6 2017, the PIP held a public hearing in Abuja. The last hearing reportedly took place on November 8, 2017, concluding the investigation. Its report was presented to Vice President Osinbajo in February 2018 but has not been released publicly.

“To the best of the Special Rapporteur’s knowledge, so far none of these aforementioned initiatives has led to investigations and prosecutions of any (senior or ordinary) members of military, police, civilian authorities or members of militias, such as the Civilian Joint Task Force in Borno State. In most cases, the main findings and outcomes are not even made public, with the exception of those conducted by the national human rights commission.

“This pattern was highlighted in 2006 by the then Special Rapporteur in his mission report. I can only concur with his conclusion, which remains most sadly accurate 15 years later: these various initiatives appear to be used mostly for whitewashing purposes, or to facilitate a “cooling of the political temperature” (E/CN.4/2006/53/Add.4, para 103). They do not appear to aim at identifying lines of responsibility, delivering accountability and justice, providing remedies and reparations, and determining and implementing structural or systemic changes.

“The accountability crisis must be addressed. I will strongly recommend that the government, under the leadership of its President, draws a road map to address the quasi systemic absence of effective investigations and prosecution and of access to justice, particularly for the most vulnerable Nigerians.

“Every death or serious injury in police custody, and every alleged extrajudicial execution, ought to be adequately and impartially investigated by an independent body. Officers suspected of being responsible should be suspended pending investigation; those who use legitimate lethal force should be cleared and those who are implicated in extrajudicial executions should be dismissed and brought before an ordinary civilian court and guaranteed the right to a fair trial in accordance with international standards without recourse to the death penalty.

“The government should condemn publicly all extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, including of suspected armed robbers, and announce that perpetrators will be brought to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts and without recourse to death penalty,” she said.

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