The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), through its Country Rapporteur for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso, and the Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa, Commissioner Maria Teresa Manuela, is closely following the expression of public outrage about the human rights violations by and calls for the dissolution of, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police Force.
The Commission expresses its serious concern about reports of excessive use of force by police in some regions of Nigeria against people participating in the protest against SARS, which has, to the regret of the Commission, claimed the lives of at least 8 people.
The Commission welcomes the announcement of the Government of Nigeria to dissolve of the SARS, which creates the basis for taking the necessary measures to address the human rights violations by SARS that triggered the protests and the calls for ending SARS. In this respect, the Commission expresses its concern about the alleged human rights violations committed by this unit including harassment, unlawful arrests, torture and extra-judicial killings. The Commission is further concerned that while this is not the first time that steps have been initiated to disband or reorganise the SARS there has been a distinct lack of real reform, resulting in continued impunity for human rights violations and a perpetuation of patterns of abuse.
The Commission understands that repeated promises have been made previously for undertaking investigation into the various alleged violations perpetrated by SARS, which is the pre-requisite for both accountability and the reform required for ending human rights violations by law enforcement institutions. In this respect, the Commission expresses its concern at the redeployment of members of SARS to new policing units within the country before investigations and the necessary vetting for non-involvement in violations are undertaken.
Considering the various acts of abuse and violations perpetrated by SARS officers noted above and others, including bribes and extortion from criminal suspects, falsely accused persons and their families often with full knowledge by superior officers, the Commission supports the indication from the Chief of Police that a team of investigators, which would include representatives from civil society and human rights groups, would investigate the alleged abuses.
Noting that, while reports of violations of human rights by law enforcement are an alarming concern in respect of SARS, these are not limited to SARS, the Commission therefore calls on the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to:
- Immediately halt the use by police of live ammunition in responses to the ongoing protests and ensure that that policing of these assemblies is undertaken in compliance with the principles of minimum use of force as a last resort measure to avert imminent danger to life, as well as necessity, precaution and proportionality;
- Ensure the conduct of timely, independent, impartial and inclusive investigations into both the reported excessive use of force that led to loss of lives in the context of the recent protests and all reports of violations committed by the SARS and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable;
- Avail those whose rights have been violated by members of law enforcement institutions with unhindered access to remedies, including reparations and compensation, and legal assistance to indigent victims;
- Put suspected members of the SARS on special leave for the duration of the investigations and institute the vetting of all other members of SARS before their integration into other police units;
- Take measures for the establishment of an independent police oversight, investigation and accountability mechanism, applicable to all police and security structures at both Federal and State levels and put in place effective and well-funded structures for reporting of police abuse and misconduct by victims and citizens; and
- Initiate comprehensive reform to address the serious gaps in the policies, laws, regulations and guidelines regulating the conduct of law enforcement institutions, including in terms of the use of force, in the doctrine and training of members of law enforcement institutions and in the mechanisms for monitoring and investigating the conduct of law enforcement institutions for their compliance with human rights principles and standards.
The African Commission avails itself to accompany Nigeria in its effort to ensure compliance with the standards of the African Charter, on the basis of the foregoing, by its law enforcement institutions.
Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso
Country Rapporteur for the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Commissioner Maria Teresa Manuela
Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa
13 October 2020