US Lawmakers, Activists: Abuse by Nigerian Police Unit Is Global Human Rights Issue 

American politicians and civil rights leaders are lending their voices to the protests in Nigeria against abuses by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a police unit accused of excessive violence against civilians.Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, wrote a FILE – Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, right, speaks during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and civil liberties, at the Capitol in Washington, June 19, 2019.She also co-wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and to the United Nations, saying the U.S. must call for a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council to investigate human rights abuses. She has also called for more accountability and better training and equipment for Nigeria’s police and military.Jackson Lee’s congressional district is home to the largest concentration of Nigerian Americans in the country.“We want the United States to take a firm stand with President Buhari against this violence and to recognize that people who protest have a right to do so without violence,” she said. “And they particularly have a right to be able to utilize their streets in free expression of their voice.”The SARS protests began this month following the release of a video showing officers killing man who was dragged out of a hotel. Nigerians began sharing other videos showing abuse and extrajudicial killings, leading to growing outrage and widespread demonstrations.The Nigerian government announced the dissolution of the unit. But protests have continued, and this week security forces opened fire on protesters in Lagos’ Lekki Toll Gate plaza, killing at least 12 people, according to FILE – People raise their hands as they approach a police checkpoint in Lagos, Nigeria, Oct. 22, 2020.“I think what we’re seeing now is a courageous movement that has risen up, that has said ‘enough is enough,’ ” she said. “They’re tired, especially in the midst of this time where we are in a global pandemic. People are already living on the brink.”Jackson Lee has heard similar stories from her constituents. This week she marched with them at the Mickey Leland Federal Building in Houston and invited them to her district office to share their concerns.“They had a video showing the outright shooting by military persons that would really break your heart, because you know that the unarmed person who has lost their life that night, someone’s young son or daughter — meaning young in their stage of life — was killed that night,” Jackson Lee said.She said Nigerian Americans are fearful of worsening violence that could spiral out of control.“They don’t want their country to turn into a quagmire of civil war or a quagmire of a dictatorial-type government that uses the military to brutalize its citizens,” she said. “They want the Nigeria that they love, and they want the Nigeria that has the capacity to be a democratic, free, safe and nonviolent community.”Documented abusesRights groups said they have documented extensive abuse during the crackdowns against protesters. Amnesty International has called for an independent investigation into incidents in Lekki, Alwasa and other areas. Adotei Akwei, managing director of government relations at Amnesty International USA, told VOA that there was evidence that the actions by security forces had been planned.Amnesty International also said at least 56 people had been killed over the past two weeks in protests.”In Alwasa, we found that there was credible evidence that there were efforts to shut off [closed-]circuit TV that would have monitored how the police behaved, which indicates that they were planning a very brutal crackdown, and that’s unfortunately what happened,” Akwei said.He urged the Nigerian government to exercise restraint.“We continue to stick with the calls for the Nigerian government to respect the right to nonviolent protest, the Nigerian government to respect these individual rights of the protesters, for the protesters who’ve been arrested to be released,” he said.

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