In a letter sent to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Human Rights Watch welcomed the government’s action, but deplored the federal government’s failure to act earlier. Human Rights Watch urged the president to implement longer-lasting reforms of the police to ensure that law and order are restored, with respect for human rights, and the population no longer resorts to vigilantism for security.
“If the federal government and police had taken action earlier, they could have saved hundreds of people from torture or killings at the hands of the Bakassi Boys,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. “But action now is obviously better late than never.”
In the past few weeks, police operations were launched in several locations in Abia state, in August, and in Anambra state, in September, resulting in the arrests of scores of Bakassi Boys and the release of people detained unlawfully by the Bakassi Boys. Many of the detainees had been subjected to horrific torture and mutilation.
Human Rights Watch, together with the Lagos-based Centre for Law Enforcement Education (CLEEN), published a detailed report in May 2002 documenting a range of serious human rights abuses by the Bakassi Boys, including a pattern of extrajudicial killings, torture and unlawful detention. Many of these abuses were carried out with the support of state government officials.
“We have written to President Obasanjo recommending a number of measures that will be critical to the success of this initiative,” said Takirambudde. “We are urging him to implement them as soon as possible to ensure that the grave abuses carried out by the Bakassi Boys are not repeated and that the breakdown of law and order which gave rise to their creation in the first place does not return.”
Human Rights Watch’s recommendations include:
· Bring specific criminal charges against the members of the Bakassi Boys who have been arrested, where sufficient evidence exists, and ensure that they are brought to trial promptly and fairly, with guarantees of due process. Give clear instructions to police or other officials responsible for their custody that they should not be subjected to torture, ill-treatment or extrajudicial execution.
· Ensure that the police investigate not only the role of rank-and-file members of the Bakassi Boys, but also the role of the individuals who ordered them to carry out serious human rights abuses.
· Resist any pressure from state government officials or other individuals to release members of the Bakassi Boys against whom there is evidence of participation in human rights abuses, as has happened in the past.
· Undertake a wide-ranging reform of the police force, particularly to provide the police with an adequate number of personnel, better training and working conditions, and eradicate human rights abuse and corruption within the police force.