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Groups Want Probe of Alleged Nigerian Rights Abuses - 2002-04-22


Representatives of Nigerian human rights organizations are calling on the United Nations and the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights to conduct an independent investigation into alleged state-sponsored violence in Nigeria. Sixty Nigerian human rights groups and the Geneva-based World Organization Against Torture have just issued a report detailing the Nigerian government's involvement in gross violations of human rights.

The human rights groups accuse the Nigerian government and its security agencies of fueling and participating in so-called ethno-religious riots. In their report, they document over 50 separate incidents in which they say over 10,000 Nigerians allegedly have been victims of extra-judicial executions.

Executive director of the Center for Law Enforcement Education, Innocent Chukwuma, says that security agents in most cases act on direct orders of the government. Mr. Chukwuma says the agents have been responsible for the deaths, rapes, maiming and torture of thousands of women and other defenseless civilians.

"In each of the cases, the state has not only abdicated its responsibility under international human rights law to investigate them with the view of bringing the perpetrators to justice," he said. "But they have also gone ahead to use security forces to directly victimize people." The report documents that after enduring 15 years of military rule, Nigerians had high expectations of reforms with the election of Olusegun Obasanjo to the presidency three years ago.

And some of these expectations were realized in the first few months of his term. It says President Obasanjo freed known political detainees and put scores of people on trial for their roles in high profile cases of human rights abuses under the military.

Mr. Chukwuma says the government soon reverted to the same abusive policies of the past. He says the president has shied away from bringing those responsible for crimes to justice. He says this is because he needs the support of the military and other powerful people to get him re-elected next year.

"What we are gradually witnessing is that the government appears not to be interested in doing anything about all these violations simply because it wants to get re-elected next year," he said.

The director of the World Organization Against Torture, Eric Sottas, says it is crucial that Nigeria control incidents of targeted violence and reduces ethnic and religious friction. Otherwise, he warns, there could be serious repercussions in neighboring countries.

"Some Islamic movement, some ethnic group can easily take sides about what is going on inside Nigeria because from [the] outside, they are linked to them to a certain extent," he said. "So, it can destabilize the region."

Mr. Sottas says the Nigerian government has not yet seen the report. However, he says, he presented certain parts of it to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. And he says the Nigerian representative used his right of reply to say the human rights situation in his country has improved since the days under military rule.

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