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US State Dept Human Rights Practices Rept on Nigeria

On Friday, the US State Department published its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (The Human Rights Reports) for 2017.  The State Department states that: “These reports are required by U.S. law and are used by a variety of actors, including the U.S. Congress, the Executive branch, and the Judicial branch as a factual resource for decision making in matters ranging from assistance to asylum.”

President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet his Nigerian counterpart Muhammadu Buhari at the end of this month.  Although Trump’s unauthorised biography, Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff, claimed the president hardly reads any of his briefings, his handlers must point out some key aspects of this report to him before his meeting with Buhari.

Trump to meet Buhari again at the end of April

The executive summary states:

Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security services.

The insurgency in the Northeast by the militant terrorist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued. The groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets that resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of approximately 1.8 million persons, and external displacement of an estimated 205,000 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries, principally Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.

The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial and arbitrary killings; disappearances and arbitrary detentions; torture, particularly in detention facilities, including sexual exploitation and abuse; use of children by some security elements, looting, and destruction of property; civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy evidence; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting and sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; early and forced marriages..

The government took steps to investigate alleged abuses but fewer steps to prosecute officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. The government did not adequately investigate or prosecute most of the major outstanding allegations of human rights violations by the security forces or the majority of cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power.

In its response to Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacks, and at times in response to crime and insecurity in general, security service personnel perpetrated extrajudicial killings and engaged in torture, sexual exploitation and abuse, arbitrary detention, mistreatment of detainees, use of children by some security elements, looting, and destruction of property. The country also suffered from ethnic, regional, and religious violence.

Section 1a deals with excessive force by security agencies:

There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. The national police, army, and other security services used lethal and excessive force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects and committed other extrajudicial killings. Authorities generally did not hold police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths generally did not make their findings public. In August the acting president convened a civilian-led presidential investigative panel to review compliance of the armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement. As of November the panel had not issued a report.

In September the military reportedly clashed with supporters of the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement, a secessionist group, in Abia State during military exercises. These clashes allegedly resulted in injuries to some protestors and the death of at least one police officer. Human rights groups expressed concern regarding the response and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) urged the military to respect its rules of engagement and stated it would investigate allegations of human rights abuses.

Pro-Biafran demonstrators

As of November the government had not adequately investigated or held police or military personnel accountable for extrajudicial killings of supporters of IPOB movement in 2016. Amnesty International (AI) reported that security forces killed at least 150 IPOB members or supporters and arbitrarily arrested hundreds from August 2015 to August 2016. The Nigerian Army (NA) reportedly investigated the incidents as part of a broader Board of Inquiry (BOI), but its full report was not made public. There have been no reports of discipline or prosecution of police or military personnel.

As of November there were no reports of the federal government further investigating or holding individuals accountable for the 2015 killing and subsequent mass burial of members of the Shia group Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and other civilians by NA forces in Zaria, Kaduna State. The federal government had indicated it would wait for the results of a Kaduna State judicial commission of inquiry before taking further action to investigate or hold those responsible to account. In July 2016 the government of Kaduna made public the commission’s nonbinding report, which found the NA used “excessive and disproportionate” force during the 2015 altercations in which 348 IMN members and one soldier died. The commission recommended the federal government conduct an independent investigation and prosecute anyone found to have acted unlawfully. It also called for the proscription of the IMN and the monitoring of its members and their activities. In December 2016 the government of Kaduna State published a white paper that included acceptance of the commission’s recommendation to investigate and prosecute allegations of excessive and disproportionate use of force by the NA. As of November, however, there was no indication that authorities had held any members of the NA accountable for the events in Zaria. It also accepted the recommendation to hold IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky responsible for all illegal acts committed by IMN members during the altercations and in the preceding 30 years. In December 2016 a federal court declared the continued detention without charge of Zakzaky and his wife illegal and unconstitutional. The court ordered their immediate and unconditional release but gave authorities 45 days to carry it out, reasoning that the government needed that time to provide the couple with a dwelling to replace the one destroyed following the 2015 Zaria incidents. As of November the federal government had not complied with this order and Zakzaky and his spouse remained in detention. As of November more than 200 imprisoned IMN members awaited trial on charges of conspiracy and culpable homicide.

Shias protest against the detention of their leader Zakzaky

Section 1b highlights disappearances in the hands of security officials:

In August, AI issued a report on the International Day of the Disappeared, calling on the government to investigate several unexplained disappearances, including the reported disappearances of more than 600 members of the IMN, more than 200 pro-Biafra protesters in the Southeast, and an unknown number of individuals in the Northeast where Boko Haram had been active.

According to AI, in August 2016 armed men in a sport utility vehicle bearing government license plates abducted pro-Biafra activist Sunday Chucks Obasi outside his home in Amuko Nnewi, Anambra State. In response to inquiries by his family, police in Anambra stated Obasi was not in their custody. In April, AI reported Obasi had been held incommunicado by the Department of State Services (DSS) and stated he was tortured during interrogation concerning the IPOB movement. In December 2016 he was released and charged with obstructing DSS officials. His trial was pending at year’s end.

Section 1e addresses the issue of Sharia courts in the north:

The constitution provides that, in addition to common law courts, states may establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law. Sharia courts functioned in 12 northern states and the FCT. Customary courts functioned in most of the 36 states. The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determined what type of court had jurisdiction. In the case of sharia courts in the North, the impetus to establish them stemmed at least in part from perceptions of inefficiency, cost, and corruption in the common law system.

The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for “civil proceedings,” but they do not have the authority to compel participation by non-Muslims. Non-Muslims have the option to have their cases tried in the sharia courts if involved in civil disputes with Muslims.

The constitution is silent on the use of sharia courts for criminal cases. In addition to civil matters, sharia courts also hear criminal cases if both complainant and defendant are Muslim and agree to the venue. Sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including for “hudud” offenses (serious criminal offenses with punishments prescribed in the Quran) that provide for punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning. Despite constitutional language supporting only secular criminal courts and the prohibition against involuntary participation in sharia criminal courts, a Zamfara State law requires that a sharia court hear all criminal cases involving Muslims.

Defendants have the right to challenge the constitutionality of sharia criminal statutes through the common law appellate courts. As of November no challenges with adequate legal standing had reached the common law appellate system. The highest appellate court for sharia-based decisions is the Supreme Court, staffed by common-law judges who are not required to have any formal training in the sharia penal code. Sharia law experts often advise them.

Other sections deal with torture, conditions in detention centres, harassment of journalists, the forceful eviction of slum-dwellers and official discrimination against people not indigenous to the areas they dwell in – in defiance to the constitution.

The full report is available here.

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