Nigeria submitted a report on its progress in legislating against and preventing enforced disappearances to the United Nations (UN) nine years after the due date.
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) made this observation on Monday, Sept. 18, at its 25th session in Geneva. The CED is a body of experts elected to monitor the implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which came into force in December 2010, by countries who are party to it.
The convention requires state parties to submit a report to the CED through the UN Secretary-General stating measures it had taken to implement its obligations under the treaty. This report was due in December 2012. But Nigeria did not submit it until March 2021 — almost nine years later — according to committee chair Olivier de Frouville, who said they regretted the “significant delay”.
The head of Nigeria’s delegation, Kashim Adeiza Adamu, mentioned laws the country has enacted to combat enforced disappearances, including the 2017 Anti-Torture Act. He said the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was given the mandate to investigate allegations of disappearances and other human rights violations.
Adamu added that Nigeria’s security personnel and other state officials are regularly trained on the rule of law and the need to uphold fundamental human rights as they enforce laws and maintain national security. He mentioned that Nigeria set up a presidential panel in 2017 to investigate the military’s compliance with the human rights provisions and rules of engagement in conflict situations — though the report of this panel has not been made public.
Committee members raised various questions after the presentation.
Juan Pablo Alban Alencastro noted that there were “disturbing reports that mass graves existed in certain places” and asked for progress made regarding determining the number of graves.
He said: “The committee would like to insist that the state provides information and measures taken that all mass graves are searched for and located, the number of mass graves located, efforts undertaken to identify and return the remains of the disappeared persons, progress made to establish a genetic data bank, investigations carried out and the results, whether the responsible were identified and punished and efforts to keep relatives abreast of the progress and results of the investigation.”
Alencastro also asked about allegations of secret detentions and whether detainees had access to lawyers and could communicate with their families.
Suela Janina, another expert member, was interested in the competence of the NHRC and the specific activities the commission had carried out. She observed that “more statistics were needed regarding enforced disappearances, including on the number of cases referred for criminal prosecution and on compensation provided by the state.”
The committee members asked by the international convention had yet to be incorporated into domestic laws. They wanted to know if measures were taken to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and whether any offenders had been sanctioned. They also asked “how many investigations and criminal proceedings had been carried out regarding abductions perpetrated by Boko Haram”.
The Nigerian delegation did not include governmental officials from Abuja, according to Adamu, because of the recency of cabinet appointments by President Bola Tinubu. This prevented them from being able to answer the questions raised.
The committee chair said they expected that answers would be delivered in writing so that they could be considered in the development of the concluding observations.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Nigeria has the largest number of people documented as missing in Africa. This is mainly due to the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeastern region.
HumAngle and New Lines Magazine established in an investigation published on Monday, September 18, that many of the cases are due to a pattern of arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, mass burials, and prolonged detention by security forces.
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