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COVID-19 Lockdown: UN Knocks Nigeria, as Buhari Condemns Police Brutality

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•14 other countries guilty as hundreds of thousands arrested, detained amid lockdown

•Over 23 people killed, many brutalised in Nigeria 

•Police use whips and tear gas against poor in South Africa

•About 80 countries have declared states of emergency

•Police may have killed more than virus in Kenya

Senator Iroegbu

The United Nations Human Rights Office has raised the alarm over reports of killings, brutality and other forms of human rights violations in Nigeria as well as other countries while enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown measures.

This was also acknowledged by the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who in his nationwide speech on Monday, condemned acts of human rights abuse perpetrated by security agents. 

contained in a statement on Monday by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet,  denouncing the killings, shoot-at-sight orders and detentions by Nigeria and about 14 others.

UN in a report by Reuters noted that more than a dozen countries that have declared states of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic where police have arrested or detained hundreds of thousands of people and killed others.

“Emergency powers should not be a weapon governments can wield to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power,” Bachelet stated.

A top official from her office said about 80 countries have declared emergencies due to the new coronavirus, including 15 where the allegations were deemed most troubling.

They were: Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Peru, Honduras, Jordan, Morocco, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Iran and Hungary.

Nigerian case was particularly worrisome where no fewer than 23 citizens were reportedly killed with several others brutalised and their human rights violated by security operatives in states where the lockdown orders were imposed.

At a time the numbers of those killed in Nigeria as was documented by the National Human Rights commission (NHRC), CLEEN Foundation and other rights observers were far more than those who died as a result of Coronavirus.

According to recent report signed by the Executive Director, CLEEN Foundation, Mr. Benson Olugbuo,  there were 23 documented incidents of extra-judicial killing across the country including 12 deaths in Kaduna State, five in Abia,  two in Anambra, while Delta, Niger, Ebonyi and Katsina states recorded one deaths each.

This was recognised by Buhari who while commending the efforts of the security agents to maintain law and order during the lockdown measures, expressed concern over what he described as “isolated security incidents”, warning that he would not tolerate any acts of rights violations even though he stopped short of announcing any punitive measures.

“Our Security Agencies continue to rise to the challenge posed by this unusual situation. While we feel deeply concerned about isolated security incidents, I want to assure all Nigerians that your safety and security remain our primary concern especially in these difficult and uncertain times.”As we focus on protecting lives and properties, we will not tolerate any human rights abuse by our security agencies. The few reported incidences are regrettable, and I want to assure you that the culprits will be brought to justice,” he said.

However,  the UN Director of Field Operations, Mr. Georgette Gagnon, added at a virtual briefing in Geneva “there are probably several dozen more we could have highlighted”.

“A main concern on exceptional emergency measures is what has been described as a toxic lockdown culture in some countries.

 “As the High Commissioner highlighted, police and other security forces are using excessive and sometimes deadly force to enforce lockdowns and curfews,”Gagnon said.

In Nigeria, OHCHR has received reports that security forces killed 18 people in relation to COVID enforcement measures.

Nigerian authorities have attributed some deaths to prison violence.

She also raised concerns about police extortion in Africa.

“Those who cannot pay bribes, poor people, are taken to mandatory quarantine centres although there is no indication that they have come into contact with someone testing positive to COVID.”

Some of those countries have arrested and detained tens of thousands of people for violation of confinement measures linked to the pandemic, with the Philippines topping the list with 120,000 apprehended for curfew violations in the past 30 days.

In the case of Kenya, Gagnon said that authorities were investigating 20 cases related to deaths linked to police conduct in implementing curfew measures. The country has reported 14 COVID deaths to the World Health Organization.

To this end, President Uhuru Kenyatta has apologised for police violence.

In South Africa, the U.N. has received reports of police using rubber bullets, tear gas, water bombs and whips, to enforce social distancing, especially in poor neighborhoods. Thirty-nine complaints including murder, rape, use of fire arms and corruption are being investigated, Gagnon said.

Police have described the use of whips as unacceptable.

Gagnon, asked about China’s record during the crisis, said: “The office has received reports of censorship on and offline, intimidation, arrest and apparent detention of dissenting voices such as doctors, journalists, human rights defenders and members of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party).”

The office was liaising with China on around half of dozen of those cases, she said.

Credits| Reuters

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