Global human rights watchdog, Amnesty International (AI), has declared that the Nigerian government uses enforced disappearances to instill fear into the civilian population in areas of the country affected by conflict and insecurity. AI made the declaration on 30 August, the International Day of the Disappeared.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the organization expressed fear that hundreds of people are being held in secret detention centers across the country, a conduct prohibited under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
AI noted that Nigeria is a state party to the International Convention and called on the Federal Government to release details on the fate and whereabouts of all victims of enforced disappearance.
“Many families of the victims of enforced disappearance spend painful years searching for justice, truth, and reparation, but are ignored or misled about the fate of their relatives. The authorities must do the right thing now by releasing all of them or disclosing information about their fate or whereabouts,” in a statement from the Director of AI Nigeria, Mr. Osai Ojigho.
The human rights watchdog disclosed that its research revealed that most enforced disappearances take place in the North-eastern part of the country, where young men are regularly arrested by the military after being accused of links to Boko Haram. AI added that it obtained details of men, women, and children victims of enforced disappearance in other parts of Nigeria.
According to AI, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) said at least 600 of its members’ whereabouts remain unknown since the group clashed with the military in Zaria, Kaduna State, in December 2015. The rights organization also said over
350 people are believed to have been unlawfully killed by the military between 12 and 14 December 2015.
AI disclosed that its interaction with families of some of the victims yielded harrowing tales of the long wait for justice.
Mrs. Zainab Isa, according to AI, said the whereabouts and fate of her husband, Abdullahi Abbas, and their six children remain unknown since 14 December 2015, following the IMN/military clashes in Zaria.
“He sells books at the Husainiyyah where the clashes took place. All six of our children were with him that day. Up to now, we don’t know their fate. We don’t know whether the seven (7) of them are alive or dead and no one is giving us any information that can ease our pain,” AI quoted the traumatized woman.
Another man feeling the pain is Mr. Ibrahim Aliyu, who remains in the dark over the fate and whereabouts of his three brothers arrested by the State Security Services since 2012.
“Before my three brothers disappeared, we used to contribute money to support our extended family. Now without them, the burden is entirely on my shoulder. I have to do everything: Take care of their families and provide for our mother. Our mother is now perpetually sick because she thinks a lot about my brothers’ fate. Sometimes I feel I can’t bear the pain anymore,” he told AI dejectedly.
AI used the occasion of the International Day of the Disappeared to call on the Nigerian government to investigate all cases of enforced disappearances and bring all those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts and without recourse to the death penalty.
Additionally, it called on the government to provide comprehensive reparations to victims and their families. The reparations, it stated, must include compensation, rehabilitation, restitution, and be satisfactory, as well as offer guarantees of non-repetition.
“We call on authorities to investigate cases of enforced disappearance across Nigeria to end this crime under international law that makes the victims vulnerable to torture and other human rights violations. The families of the victims of enforced disappearance have already waited too long for answers. They deserve justice, truth, and reparation now,” said Mr. Ojigho.
Enforced disappearances, AI, said are carried out by state agents or individuals acting on their instigation. AI stated that the deprivation of liberty is accompanied by a refusal to acknowledge that victims are being held or their fate or whereabouts are deliberately concealed. The situation, it added, places victims outside the protection of the law.
The pattern of enforced disappearance, said the watchdog, begins with the arrest of victims, who are almost never arraigned in court, and whose alleged crimes are never recorded. Once out of the public glare, victims are at great risk of ill-treatment, torture, and even death.