By Kelvin Ebiri
• Group, police in Rivers disagree on report
For the Amnesty International, the failure of the Nigerian justice system has prevented investigations into hundreds of murder cases caused by police brutality.
In a report titled “Nigeria: No Justice for the Dead” which was released Tuesday, Amnesty used Rivers State to illustrate the gaps in the investigation of deaths following police brutality.
According to Amnesty, basic techniques of crime scene protection and investigation are not applied and autopsies and inquests are either not carried out or are inadequate. Relatives are often left with no answers about the fate of their family members and rarely receive justice.
Rivers State, according to Amnesty, is representative of other Nigerian states where violent deaths at the hands of the police are not investigated adequately.
But the Rivers State Police Command spokesperson, Ben Ugwuegbulama, said in an interview with The Guardian that the report by Amnesty lacked substance, adding that “there is no iota of truth in it.”
Ugwuegbulama, who denied knowledge of any reported case of extra-judicial killing committed by policemen in the state, said anyone could claim otherwise.
Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Africa, Lucy Freeman, said in the report that medical and legal sources revealed that there “is a practice of doctors signing death investigation reports without examining the body properly.”
He continued: “In many cases, the identity of the deceased is not known to the police and bodies are registered as ‘unknown.’ Little effort is made by police to identify them.
“The lack of investigation in Nigeria means that many of the police officers who appear to have used unlawful lethal force enjoy impunity, seriously undermining human rights protections.
“To have one of your friends or family members killed by the authorities causes terrible anguish, but never to find out the truth of what actually happened to them causes a particular agony for relatives of the victims.”
According to him, many of the victims killed by the police each year may have suffered extra-judicial executions.
“Effective and impartial investigations are crucial in determining the truth about human rights violations, including extra-judicial executions, and gathering evidence to hold the perpetrators to account,” he said.
Amnesty International found that in most cases of killings at the hands of the police, there was almost no action to hold them to account.
Pastor Ken Neele told Amnesty that after learning of the shooting of his brother following police action in November 2011, he went to several hospitals in search of his body, which he finally traced to Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State.
Neele was distressed by the disrespectful handling of his brother’s body, which was lying at the bottom of a pile of other bodies.
More than a year later, Neele has still not been able to bury his brother – the police have yet to approve the body’s release.
Other families told Amnesty of their distress at seeing the way in which their relatives were “dumped” in the mortuary.
When an Amnesty International researcher visited Braithwaite Hospital, he found the mortuary over-crowded with bodies dumped in piles on the verandah or on benches.
While this mortuary has now closed down, reports from a number of sources suggest that most others in Nigeria operate similar practices.
“It is a sad truth that in Nigeria, the victims of police brutality and their families rarely receive justice,” Freeman said.
“In spite of the existence of domestic law and international standards requiring the investigation of such deaths, the lack of proper autopsies and inquests mean the perpetrators of these crimes are simply getting away with it,” he added.
Amnesty has, therefore, called on the federal and state governments to investigate all violent deaths in Nigeria to ensure adequate autopsies are carried out by qualified personnel, and to hold those guilty of unlawful killings to account.
Culled from The Guardian.
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