HRW Knocks Nigeria Over Violent Crackdown On Protesters, Intolerance Of Dissent
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that growing concerns about intolerance of dissent and a heavy-handed response to protests dominated Nigeria’s human rights landscape in 2016,in its World Report 2017.
HRW added government rhetoric about security sector reform and improving accountability for rights abuses has yet to translate into concrete action.
The body said that in the Southeast, police killed at least 40 pro-Biafra members of the separatist Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) during protests and processions in February and May 2016, adding that no security agent has been prosecuted for the killings.
It stated that in December 2015, soldiers killed 347 members of a Shia Muslim minority group, allegedly for blocking the Army chief’s motorcade in Zaria, Kaduna state and that scores more had died when bans placed on the group by governments of Kaduna and four other Northern states triggered days of mob and police violence in October and November 2016.
Speaking, the Senior Nigeria Researcher at Human Rights Watch, Mausi Segun, “People shouldn’t be killed for taking part in peaceful protests and processions. The use of extreme force by government forces appears to be fueling the transformation of non-violent activities into bloody clashes.”
In the 687-page World Report, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 90 countries.
In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth stated that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights as an impediment to the majority will.
He added that for those who feel left behind by the global economy and increasingly fear violent crime, civil society groups, the media, and the public have key roles to play in reaffirming the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built.
Nigeria is plagued by serious human rights problems on many fronts and that government inaction against those responsible for violent communal clashes between pastoralists and sedentary farmers has fueled a decade-long cycle of reprisal killings.
The body accused law enforcement agents of exploiting and condoning violent mob actions in the wake of the January 2014 Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which criminalises expressions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender sexuality.
HRW noted that as the seven-year Boko Haram conflict wanes in intensity in the northeast, a near-catastrophic food shortage is affecting many of the 2.5 million displaced people, stressing that severe restrictions on their movement have affected access to basic livelihoods, health, education and protection from sexual abuse.
The now fractured Boko Haram holds hundreds of people, including 197 Chibok schoolgirls and more than 300 school children from Damasak, Borno State, adding that contrary to government claims, the conflict is not over.
It stated that more than 550 civilians died in 2016 during suicide bomber attacks, and fighting across the region.
It stated that a resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s economic powerhouse, has been met by harsh sweeping security measures against communities perceived as harbouring militants and that soldiers allegedly destroyed homes and businesses in three Bayelsa state communities during a search for members of the militant Niger Delta Avengers group.
“Nigeria has shown a commitment to justice by maintaining support for the International Criminal Court, and successfully co-sponsored a UN resolution on internet rights. However, Nigeria’s votes at the UN on measures to protect human rights defenders and activists showed the same lack of support as at the national level. A bill for a regulatory body for non-governmental organizations before the national House of Representatives portends a trend toward stifling Nigeria’s historically vibrant civil society” HRW said.
According to Segun, “Nigeria’s leaders should focus on providing basic rights to their people, who bear the brunt of the country’s economic downturn. Attempts to shrink the space for people to hold government accountable are unhelpful and may be counter-productive.”