Amnesty International releases damning report on SARS •Says Nigeria reneged on promise to reform outfit

•Says Nigeria reneged on promise to reform outfit

The GLOBAL watchdog, Amnesty International, on Thursday released an indicting report on the activities of the special police the unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and condemned the Nigerian government for failing on its promise to reform the outfit.

The agency claimed failed attempts at reforming the security unit encouraged a vicious the cycle of rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and outright murder of innocent Nigerians.

“The Nigerian authorities have failed to prosecute a the single officer from SARS, despite anti-torture legislation passed in 2017 and evidence that its members continue to use torture and other ill-treatment to execute, punish and extract information from suspects,” AI said in a statement released on Thursday.

In a new report, ‘Time to End Impunity’, the agency said it documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and  extrajudicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020, noting that the victims of the police unit set
up to fight violent crimes are predominantly males between the ages of 18 and 35, from low-income backgrounds and vulnerable groups.

Country Director, Osai Ojigho said: “The complete failure of Nigerian authorities to bring an end to the gross human rights violations perpetrated by SARS or to bring any SARS officer to justice is shocking and unacceptable.

Nigerians are outraged by the systemic human rights violations perpetrated by the SARS with impunity.  “The systemic use of torture and other ill-treatment by SARS officers for police investigations and the continued existence of torture  chambers within the Nigeria Police points to an absolute disregard for international human rights laws and standards.”

The press statement further adds that “Amnesty International’s investigation reveals a disturbing pattern of abuse of detainees in SARS custody, despite 2017 Anti-Torture Act. “In many cases, Amnesty International bore witness to the scars, bruises and dried blood on victims’ bodies.

Many of them were subjected to beatings with sticks and machetes and denied medical care. “The findings of this report also showed that these horrific violations were carried out under the supervision of high-ranking police officers.
“In March 2017, 23-year old The miracle was arrested and detained by SARS officers in Neni, Anambra State, southeast Nigeria, as he was accused of the theft of a laptop.

He was tortured and hardly given any food during the 40 days he was in detention before he was charged and brought before a court.” The miracle was quoted as saying “…their leader directed them to go and hang me. They took me to the back of the hall and tied me with ropes. Then they started using all manner of items to beat me, including machetes, sticks,  inflicting on me all kinds of injuries. One of the officers used an exhaust pipe to hit me on my teeth, breaking my teeth. I  was left on that hanger for more than three hours…” Also documented was the case of Bang. Amnesty International recollects that “in October 2018, 24-year-old Sunday Bang, an amateur boxer, was arrested in his home in Abuja by  SARS officers and accused of robbery. He was held in detention for five weeks without access to a family, lawyer or medical care and was not charged in court. While in SARS detention, he suffered bone fractures and other injuries due  to torture and other ill-treatment.” Ojigho said: “No circumstance whatsoever may be invoked as a justification for torture. In many cases, the victims are the poor and vulnerable, easy targets for law enforcement officers whose responsibility is to protect them.

“Impunity sends the message to torturers that they will get away with it. Impunity denies victims and their relatives the  right to have the truth established, the right to see justice served and the right to reparations.” The new report also accused SARS officers of extortion and outright stealing.

“Across Nigeria, SARS officers have turned their duty to protect Nigerians into an opportunity for extortion and stealing money, property and other valuables belonging to suspects and their families.

Since 2016, Amnesty International has documented 15 cases where SARS officers arbitrarily confiscated suspects’ property. “Young people between the ages of 17 and 30 are most at risk of arrest, torture or extortion by SARS. They are often accused of being internet fraudsters and/or armed robbers.

Young men with dreadlocks, ripped jeans, tattoos, flashy cars or expensive gadgets are frequently targeted by SARS.
“Often, these young men are unlawfully arrested in raids on television viewing centres, bars and recreational centres. They are held in detention and forced to pay huge bribes to secure their release. Those unable to pay are subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.

“Amnesty International’s research shows that no SARS the officer has been held accountable for human rights violations documented in this report. The organisation on three occasions wrote to the Inspector-General of Police, asking for steps the police might have taken in investigating the cases outlined in the report, but there was no response.

“Many victims of SARS violations face obstacles and in some cases, concerted opposition from the police authorities
while seeking justice, including threats to their lives. “Despite repeated promises by successive governments to reform the Nigeria Police and the “immediate overhauling of the SARS” announced by the Inspector- General of Police on August 14, 2018, gross human rights violations, inefficiency and disregard for human rights remains widespread within the force.

“The Nigerian authorities must go beyond lipservice to ensure there is real reform within the Nigeria Police with an emphasis on SARS. These reforms must translate into holding police officers suspected of torture to account, ending torture, unlawful detention, extortion, extrajudicial execution and other human rights violations that SARS officers have  been known for across Nigeria.” In September 2016, an Amnesty International report,’ You have signed your
death warrant: Torture and other ill-treatment in the Special Anti-Robbery Squad’ highlighted gross violations by SARS, including torture and other forms of ill-treatment, prompting assurances from the Nigerian authorities that SARS would be reformed.

The agency said on Thursday that nothing on the ground showed the promise had been fulfilled.

 

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