Amnesty (HRNW): A Nigerian police unit set up to combat violent crime has instead been systematically torturing detainees in its custody as a means of extracting confessions and lucrative bribes, Amnesty International said in a report published today.In Nigeria: You have signed your death warrant, former detainees told Amnesty International they had been subjected to horrific torture methods, including hanging, starvation, beatings, shootings and mock executions, at the hands of corrupt officers from the feared Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
“A police unit created to protect the people has instead become a danger to society, torturing its victims with complete impunity while fomenting a toxic climate of fear and corruption,” said Damian Ugwu, Amnesty International’s Nigeria researcher.
“Our research has uncovered a pattern of ruthless human rights violations where victims are arrested and tortured until they either make a ‘confession’ or pay officers a bribe to be released.”
Amnesty International has received reports from lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists and collected testimonies stating that some police officers in SARS regularly demand bribes, steal and extort money from criminal suspects and their families.
“SARS officers are getting rich through their brutality. In Nigeria, it seems that torture is a lucrative business,” said Ugwu.
SARS detainees are held in a variety of locations, including a grim detention center in Abuja known as the ‘Abattoir,’ where Amnesty International found 130 detainees living in overcrowded cells.
Amnesty International’s research shows that, in addition to its stated remit of tackling violent crime, SARS investigates civil matters and in some cases tortures detainees involved in contractual, business and even non-criminal disputes.
In one case in Onitsha, Anambra state, a 25-year-old fuel attendant was arrested by SARS after his employer had accused him of being responsible for a burglary at their business premises.
He told Amnesty International: “The policemen asked me to sign a plain sheet. When I signed it, they told me I have signed my death warrant. They left me hanging on a suspended iron rod. My body ceased to function. I lost consciousness. When I was about to die they took me down and poured water on me to revive me.”
Like many people detained by SARS, he was not allowed access to a lawyer, a doctor or his family during his two-week detention.
Yet in various cases where victims of police torture or other ill-treatment attempted to seek justice, the authorities took no action.
When asked by Amnesty International to explain why no police officers had been suspended or prosecuted for torture, the police simply denied that any torture had taken place.
However, one senior officer disclosed that around 40 officers alleged to have carried out various acts of torture and ill-treatment of detainees were transferred to other stations in April 2016. He did not say whether the claims against them were being investigated.
“This lack of accountability breeds and perpetuates impunity, creating an environment where SARS officers believe they have carte blanche to carry out acts of torture,” said Ugwu.
“This is hardly surprising when many of these officers have bribed their way to SARS in the first place. The police chiefs in charge are themselves entwined in the corruption.”
Chidi Oluchi, 32, told Amnesty international he was arrested in Enugu before being robbed of his belongings and then tortured in custody by SARS officers.