The ICJ and Lawyers Alert today called on the Nigerian authorities to undertake immediate independent and thorough investigations into credible allegations of extrajudicial killings by the military responding to mass protests against the SARS police unit.
Those responsible for criminal conduct must be brought to justice and held to account, the two organizations said.
The authorities must respect their international legal obligations under international law and cease the unlawful, unnecessary and disproportionate use of force in response to Nigerians’ lawful protest actions.
Protest actions have escalated over the last two weeks as Nigerians have staged a series of protests under the #EndSARS movement. Thousands of people joined the demonstrations, demanding an end to police brutality and corruption.
Reports confirm that more than 56 people have died over the two weeks of protest actions, including 38 protesters who were killed, on the 20 October alone, as a result of the Nigerian military opening fire on thousands of peaceful protesters.
“The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed under international law, including the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Nigeria has acceded to. Nigeria’s brutal responses to the peaceful demonstrations, including the use of lethal force on force protestors, not only violates this right but also their right to life,” said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, ICJ Africa Regional Programme Director.
Lawyers Alert Executive Director Rommy Mom said: “The Nigerian government’s responses to the protests have undermined the rule of law. Groups and persons should not be afraid to approach the Judicial Panels of Inquiry to lay their grievance towards identification of culpable SARS officers for appropriate sanctions and the compensation of victims.” The organizations recall that under international law, the use of lethal force by law enforcement officials is permissible only when strictly necessary to protect life.
Police in the SARS unit are credibly alleged to be responsible for a widespread practice of torture and other serious human rights violations.
In addition to ending these violent attacks on protestors, the ICJ and Lawyers Alert call on the Nigerian government to address the demands of protestors and embark on comprehensive reform of the police, with emphasis on oversight functions, tethering oversight to civil society groups, the National Human Rights Commission and the constitutional oversight body of the Nigeria police.
“These protests have gained momentum outside Nigeria and have extended beyond the local borders to Ghana, United Kingdom and South Africa. The world’s attention is currently on Nigeria, as the global support for protestors rise amidst further police brutality. The Nigerian government must ensure that it respects and protects the human rights of all in accordance with its obligations under international law,” added Ramjathan-Keogh.
Founded in 1992, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was mandated to “investigate cases involving armed robbery and kidnapping”. However, since its inception, there have been widespread complaints by Nigerians about the conduct of SARS This year Amnesty International issued a report, documenting at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS during the period of January 2017 and May 2020
In addition to the ICCPR, Nigeria is party to the UN Convention against Torture and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter), which guarantees the right to life under Article 4 and the right to assemble freely with others under Article 11. These rights are also respectively protected under sections 33(1) and 40 of the Nigerian Constitution.
Article 6 of the ICCPR prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of life.
Principle 9 of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials affirm that:
Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives. In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.
Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, Director of ICJ’s Africa Regional Programme, c: +27845148039, e: kaajal.keogh(a)icj.org
Tanveer Jeewa, Communications Officer, tanveer.jeewa(a)icj.org
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