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Impunity by SARS makes mockery of anti-torture law, says Amnesty International

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The Federal Government has failed to prosecute a single officer from the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (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, Amnesty International (AI) alleged yesterday.

In its new report, ‘Time to End Impunity,’ Amnesty International documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.

According to AI, investigations revealed a disturbing pattern of abuse of detainees in SARS custody despite the 2017 Anti-Torture Act. In many cases, AI said it bore witness to the scars, bruises and dried blood on victims’ bodies, many of who were subjected to beatings with sticks and machetes and denied medical care.

The AI also alleged that these horrific violations were carried out under the supervision of high-ranking police officers.The victims of the brutality of the police unit, set up to fight violent crimes, are allegedly predominantly male between the ages of 18 and 35, from low-income backgrounds and vulnerable groups.

“The complete failure of Nigerian authorities to bring an end to the gross human rights violations perpetuated by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad 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 Nigerian Police Force points to an absolute disregard for international human rights laws and standards,” Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said.

The AI report revealed that on March 2017, 23-year-old Miracle was arrested and detained by SARS officers in Neni, Anambra State. He was accused of the theft of a laptop. The report alleged that 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.

Ojigho said “no circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification of torture.”He noted that despite repeated promises by successive governments to reform the Nigeria Police Force and the “immediate overhauling of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad” announced by the Inspector General of Police on August 14, 2018, gross human right violations, inefficiency and disregard for human rights remains widespread within the force.

“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 Nigerian authorities must go beyond lip service to ensure there is real reform within the Nigeria Police Force 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,” she said.

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