Accessibility links

Nigerian Police Take Course in Human Rights

Police in Nigeria, stung by reports of human rights violations, are attending a human rights workshop in the capital, Abuja. The seminar, sponsored by the government and civic groups, follows the recent release of a damning report by a human rights organization.

The two-day workshop is being attended by various civil rights groups, government officials, as well as members of Nigeria's parliament. It is part of what the government promises will be the reform of Nigeria's police forces.

The topics of discussion at the workshop range from human rights protection under international law to extrajudicial killings by police officers.

Police brutality has long been a concern for Nigeria's human rights organizations.

At a recent meeting of civil society groups in the commercial capital, Lagos, the head of Nigeria's Civil Liberties Organization, Chuma Ubani, says this new push for police reforms is linked to the June killings of six Ibo traders in Abuja by members of the police forces.

"To begin to tackle the problem the government has to first of all appreciate that there is indeed a case; the police are killing innocent people," said Chuma Ubani. "The Ibo killing that is already under investigation is not an isolated case; it is not an exceptional case. It is in fact typical of the situation in the rest of the county."

The trial of the six police officers accused of killing the traders has been widely covered in the Nigerian media. This is the first time that senior police officers have been put on trial and could face the death penalty.

A report by the international advocacy group Human Rights Watch published last June contained detailed statements from 50 people who testified they had been tortured or raped while in police custody.

A researcher with the group, Sonya Maldar, says the report came at a time Nigeria, which is seeking a seat on the U.N. Security Council, is concerned about its international image.

"Human rights watch welcomes this workshop that the government and the police are holding today," she said. "We welcome their acceptance that there are problems within the police system in Nigeria. However, we are very concerned that this workshop does not become just another talking shop."

The minister of information, Frank Nweke, has denied that torture is routinely practiced in Nigerian prisons and said that all reports of torture are being investigated. He said police reforms have been put high on the government's agenda.