Violation of Human Rights; POLICE BRUALITY AND WAR CRIMES
The idea of human rights being an inherent feature of all humans is now globally consensual. Over the years, there has been a constant need to ensure the protection of human rights which has led to the proclamation and subsequent enforcement of human rights all over the world. Although, human rights are deemed to be part and parcel of every human, its enforcement has not come without its challenges. Crime against humanity is now a major world headline ravaging and compromising the idea of free living, that which should be ordinarily be devoid of fear.Infringement of human rights is rampant as much as it is a broad topic to consider. This paper will hereby carefully examine two of such ways the enforcement of human rights has been compromised. ‘War crimes’ and ‘police brutality’ are two predominant ways human rights are being violated in present times.
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The term ‘War Crime’ refers to a violation of the rules of jus in bello (Justice in war) by any individual, whether military or civilian. The laws of armed conflict prohibit attacks on civilians and the use of weapons that cause unnecessary suffering or long-term environmental damage. War crimes include the use of biological experiments with intent to kill, taking hostages,unnecessary destruction of properties, firing and bombing of undefended civilians and others. The honorable way to conduct war should be to the exclusion of unarmed and fearful civilians. If this principle of conducting war is compromised, a host of other war crimes will begin. There will be rape, sexual assault, displacement of individuals and consequently degrading and inhuman treatment. It is however unfortunate to note that sex trafficking and degrading treatment of civilians of the opposing or losing party to a war is seen as a norm during war. Torture is used in some cases as a way to carry out interrogations or investigations which is also a war crime as it negates many statutes around the world as well as the provisions of the UDHR which prohibits torture on any grounds at all.
The Nigerian civil war also known as the Biafran war (1967-1970) witnessed a host of war crimes. Women were raped, unarmed men were slaughtered, freedom of movement was restricted to the barest minimum. This war almost led to a genocide. It is indeed a sad event in Nigerian history that led to the killing many. An example of another war crime are the genocides by the Nazi’s. The Holocaust also known as the Shoah. It was the genocide of European Jews during World War II which led to the killing of over six million Jews. Crimes such as genocides, or war crimes in general leaves a devastating effect on those affected. Therefore, investigation and prosecution of these crimes are central to our common fight against impunity. An examination of the war between Russia and Ukraine exemplifies the dire results of war crimes which puts civilians at life threating risks. Unarmed civilians are killed in bombings and shooting sprees. War crimes are being fought against by many organizations around the world. It is quite unfortunate that war crimes are seen as nothing but mere casualties in the clash of clans so to speak.
The question now is; What are the laws protecting the vulnerable group from such violations as war crimes and police brutality. Firstly, it is important to note that during the time of war, not everything is allowed.
The laws of the IHL to be obeyed in war times include:
War is an event that sours the history of the people and although it leads to untold suffering, the rules and principles mentioned above should be respected.
War crimes are not the only crimes against our rights. Police Brutality is a global phenomenon that plagues many today.
What is Police Brutality?
Police brutality is defined by Amnesty International as “various human rights violations by police,” including “beatings, racial abuse, unlawful killings, torture, or indiscriminate use of riot control agents at protests.” The original purpose of the police was to ensure safety for the public, so how has this forcebecome such a dangerous unit both nationally and internationally?
For weeks, in October 2020, young Nigerians held nationwide protests denouncing years of extra-judicial killings, torture and other ill-treatment by officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). These youth-led protests were organized under the banner of #EndSARS and quickly gained international support as part of the global movement for the recognition that Black lives matter everywhere. #EndSARS also became an avenue for young people to voice dissatisfaction with the bad governance that has contributed to Nigerian officials’ widespread lack of accountability for misbehavior. The protests ended abruptly on 20 October, 2020 when security forces shot at peaceful protesters at Lekki toll gate in Lagos, reportedly killing at least 12 and injuring many others. Widespread looting and property damage ensued, and curfews were declared in several states. In response to the protests, President Muhammadu Buhari disbanded SARS and promised extensive police reform. Judicial panels of inquiry were also set up to investigate allegations of police brutality, including the toll gate incident, and make recommendations for restitution to the government. These, however, are only the most recent in a long line of attempts at addressing human rights violations within the broader context of police reform in Nigeria.
In France, the police have disproportionately stopped young Black and Arab men in abusive “identity checks”. Patting down, searching bags and pockets, and forcing individuals to the ground, the French police would stop children as young as 10 with no apparent reason.
Aside from being a violation of human rights, these violent searches also create a schism between communities and law enforcement, foster resentment, and make policing less effective, according to this study by Human Rights Watch.
According to a study done by Amnesty International, the Metropolitan Police (“The Met”) in London have a database called the “Gang Matrix,” that follows social media activity of suspected gang members. According to Amnesty International, the Matrix “stigmatises young black men for the music they listen to or their behaviour on social media,” putting them into the category of potential gang members. This is racial profiling. Once added to the Gang Matrix, individuals are then “targeted for stop and search operations by police.”
Police Brutality as a violation of Human Rights
Police Brutality encompasses all crimes committed by the police that does not conform to the rules governing the police force. The police force all over the world has had some affiliation or the other with such crimes such as torturing of suspected offenders, detaining of citizens without reasonable grounds, extorting and bullying the general public, all of which has contributed to the diminishing trust and respect for the institution. What laws actually negate these incessant crimes committed by the police? Are there laws that protect citizens of persons globally from potential police brutality? The answers to these questions can be answered by examining the laws and principles guiding actions relating to this global ill. ARTICLE 1 OF THE UDHR PROVIDES;
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”
The foregoing provision buttresses the right that everyone should be treated with dignity thereby depicting a complete disdain for police brutality. A range of laws and order govern police use of force in Nigeria. The 1960 Criminal Procedure Code (generally applicable in the Northern states of Nigeria) contains provisions relating to the use of force by police officers. Section 37 provides that “an arrested person shall not be subjected to more restraint than is necessary to prevent his escape”. Unfortunately, this provision at section 37 is not deemed worth of applicability by the police. A man named Timothy once quoted this section for a police officer while tat the verge of being detained. Well it doesn’t take much of a guess to know that it didn’t end well for Timothy.
The 2015 Administration of Criminal Justice Act (applicable in the Federal Capital Territory and other federal courts) also has provisions regulating the use of force by police officers. Section 5 of the Act provides that:
A suspect or defendant may not be handcuffed, bound or be subjected to restraint except:
(b) the restraint is considered necessary for the safety of the suspect or defendant; or
(c) by order of a court.
The fact is that while the exceptions laid down by the constitution may be beneficial to an extent, it may also result in being an enemy to itself. Take for instance how section 37 provides that one cannot be arrested without a warrant, there are up to 12 exceptions to that. Even under the police act of 2020, the police do not always need a warrant to detain one which offers a loophole to dirty minded officers to take advantage off.
International law gives the protection of our fundamental human rights a strong backing. In February 2019, on the eve of national elections, the President even issued a kill on sight order to the military against anyone caught in the act of stealing ballot boxes. If implemented, this would have been a serious violation of international law and world organizations as well as other countries would have seriously frowned at it. The foregoing does not go to say that there was a total prevention of killings by the armed forces in the event of such hinderance of the electoral process. In the last Nigerian presidential election that held on the 25th of February, 2023 there were reports of police/military brutality. There were reports of armed officers shooting sporadically. Of course, these efforts were made in order to ensure a free and fair election but the questions remain; Were the rights of the person subjected to such brutality be it a criminal or nor upheld? If the police/armed forces can be instructed to issue the death penalty using their respective discretions, will they not also be tempted to exercise such force in other issues? What is the worlds view of such actions and how does It affect Nigeria? This paper bothers on PoliceBrutality in its worldwide generality but how does it affect Nigeria?
Nigeria is plagued with lawless police officers who have specialized in the art of extortion, torture, unlawful apprehension, bullying and dirty tricks that diminish the trustworthiness of the force.
Twenty-five-year-old Efemena was on his way to buy groceries. Efemena’s movement was put to a halt by seemingly concerned officers who doubted his ownership of the vehicle. Efemenaexplained truthfully that the vehicle was his father’s and he was only on an errand. This followed with a dirty slap alongside the threat that Efemena will be arrested for stealing the car if he doesn’t make a transfer.
I personally have been threatened by the police for merely obstructing their vehicle while on the express. Even after givinga valid explanation, I was told to get out of the car and the police officer seized the key threatening that if I don’t make a transfer at that moment, the car will end up in the police station and I will end up bailing it out with over 200k. They made these threats in a violent manner and it is very unfortunate that these experiences above are the least of their crimes.
October 8, 2020 is a historical day in heart and minds of Nigerians. The police brutality especially on the youths made way for a revolutionary movement which 90% of Nigerians will regard as a justifiable movement. The unit (SARS) is an Anti-Robbery squad aimed at preventing all forms of robber including FRAUD. The prevention of this squad is not an ill cause but became a plague following the killing of youths, extortion and oppression of the youths. The unit became a night mare because they went beyond the boundaries of their authority, they disobeyed the rules of engagement they were meant to follow and used fire arms at will as though they were toys to be played to satisfy their desires.
The protest took place in virtually all states within the federation. The youths were fed up. The foregoing shows how people are affected by such violation of their rights. The youths became fearless and employed dire means to show their grievous pain which included arson, a reciprocal torturing of police officers and a total disrespect of uniform men.
What measures can be taken to stop Police Brutality?
The government has to reform the whole police force if they are to ensure that people place confidence in them. The NigerianPolice Force has to be free from presidential and political interference. Only an independent police force can foster professionalism. It is also essential to ensure that the police do not monopolize or interfere with investigations of crime and misconduct by their officers. Currently, many cases of police misconduct are overlooked because of political interference, or the expectation of it. The police should at all times be held accountable for their actions. Poverty is a major reason why the police have resorted to use their fire arms to earn illicit funds. Owing to that fact, the police force should receive pay that can earn the comfortable living in the present economy. Again, only credible, reliable and people fit to do the job should be permitted into the force.
The government needs to strengthen their oversight mechanisms in order to properly monitor the activities of the police force and ensure they operate in compliance with the law. The police haveto be trained to work closely with communities to develop a better understanding of local needs and condition, improving accountability and building trust. The government should invest in technology innovation such as the installation of security cameras at strategic locations or even body cams which will always curtail police actions
Overall, ending police brutality and war crimes in Nigeria and the globe at large is a collective effort. The government, police force, civil societies and the citizens must work together to achieve this goal.