UN Rights Experts Call for Inquiry Into Protester Killings During Nigeria's #EndSARS Protests
A team of independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council are calling on the Nigerian government to establish a credible, independent inquiry into protester killings during the #EndSARS protests.
Young Nigerians have been protesting police brutality since early October, before expanding the original #EndSARS protests to include demands for broader institutional reforms in government and accountability.
In that time, there have been extensive reports of police brutality and protester killings, most notably on Oct. 20 at the Lekki Toll in Lagos where at least 12 peaceful protesters were killed by the Nigerian Army, according to Amnesty International.
This is not the first time Nigerians have protested against police brutality and, while the government has disbanded the rogue Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit three times in the past four years, reports of the SARS activities that started the protests in the first place have persisted.
“What is particularly disturbing is that the authorities said they had disbanded the SARS and agreed to the protestors other demands, including investigations,” the rights experts said. “But they immediately announced the formation of another similar unit and have not ended the excessive use of force.”
According to the UN experts, the Nigerian police have illegally detained and beaten hundreds of protesters during the demonstrations. The Lekki Toll shooting in particular, the experts said, was "especially disturbing because demonstrators were precisely calling for accountability for previous police brutality."
Add in the fact that the lights and cameras at the Lekki Toll were turned off shortly before soldiers opened fire on peaceful protesters demonstrated "a disturbing level of premeditation," the experts said.
The UN experts, who are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity, also highlighted the Nigerian government’s continued refusal to address the issues of police killings. Nigeria sits on the UN Human Rights Council.
"Since 2005, UN Special Rapporteurs have repeatedly raised the issue of police killings and impunity with the Nigerian government," the experts said. "We have had 15 years of government promises, but nothing has changed. Governments come and go, but police brutality is as intractable as ever. Nigerians need justice."
Systematic police brutality and use of excessive force against peaceful protesters must be independently and impartially investigated and the offenders brought to justice, the UN rights experts said.
In addition to the inquiry, the UN experts said the Nigerian authorities must also provide information on why the military was deployed and who gave the order.
"Any investigation must aim to identify lines of responsibility, deliver accountability and justice, provide remedies and reparations, and recommend structural and systemic changes," the experts said.
The experts also wrote directly to the Nigerian government asking it to release reports of previous investigations into human rights violations by security forces against the public.
The reports identified by the UN experts include the 2019 report by the National Human Rights Commission on SARS, and the 2018 report by the Presidential Investigation Panel to Review Compliance of the Armed Forces with Human Rights Obligations and Rules of Engagement ("PIP").
"The authorities have promised for years to address human rights violations by the security forces," said the experts. "Hundreds of victims and relatives of those who died have testified and sent petitions, but they never received any remedy, not even the acknowledgement that their rights were violated. It is crucial that the government releases all these reports to the public before they start new investigations."