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U.S. report indicts Nigeria for rights abuse, killings

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The 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices has indicted the Nigerian government for serious abuse and extrajudicial killings, among other infractions.

The report released by the U.S. Department of State and made available to The Guardian yesterday, however, noted that the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari in February 2019 was generally credible “despite logistical challenges, localised violence and some irregularities.”

It noted that the insurgency in the northeast by Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued and that the groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, internal displacement of more than two million persons, and external displacement of an estimated 243,875 Nigerian refugees to neighbouring countries as at September 30.

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The report specifically listed significant human rights issues by state and non-state actors as unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary detention. It also frowned on harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; unlawful infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; criminal libel; violence against and unjustified arrests of journalists; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and religious minorities; widespread and pervasive corruption; crimes involving violence targeting LGBTI persons; criminalisation of same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and forced and bonded labour.

The report by the U.S. Department of State observed: “Government took some steps to investigate alleged abuses but there were few public reports of prosecutions of officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government.”

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It noted that impunity remained widespread at all levels of government, just as no charges were filed in some of the significant allegations of human rights violations by security forces and cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power.

Worthy of positive mention, according to the report, are the efforts of the Borno State government, which provided financial and in-kind resources to the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a non-governmental self-defence militia that at times coordinated with the military.

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The report cited “human rights organisations and press reporting” alleging that the CJTF committed human rights abuses. “The government took few steps to investigate or punish CJTF members who committed human rights abuses, including forced recruitment and use of child soldiers.”

According to the report, “Boko Haram recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers and carried out scores of person-borne improvised explosive device (IED) attacks – many by young women and girls forced into doing so – and other attacks on population centres in the northeast and in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.”

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“Abductions by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued. Both groups subjected many women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriages, sexual slavery, and rape. The government investigated attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA and took steps to prosecute their members, although the majority of suspects were held in military custody without charge.”

A major plank of discussion was freedom of expression, including for the press wherein the report noted: “Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government frequently restricted these rights.”

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Asked to react to the allegations, presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, replied tersely: “Talk to Ministry of Justice.”

When contacted, Umar Gwandu, Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations to Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami said his principal would respond in due course.

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