#EndSARS: ECOWAS Court Finds FG Guilty Of Human Rights Violations

The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, on Wednesday, found the Federal Government guilty of violating the fundamental human rights of youths that participated in the October 2020, EndSARS protest.

The court, in a unanimous decision by a three-man panel of Justices, held that there was merit in a suit that three participants in the protest- Obianuju Catherine Udeh, Perpetual Kamsi and Dabiraoluwa Adeyinka- lodged before it.

Specifically, the court held that the Federal Republic of Nigeria, through its security agencies, violated Articles 1, 4, 6, 9, 10, and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ACPHR, pertaining to the right to life, security of person, freedom of expression, assembly and association, prohibition of torture, duty of the state to investigate, and the right to effective remedy.

The Applicants had in their suit, alleged that these violations occurred during peaceful protests they held at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos State on October 20 and 21, 2020.

The regional court, in its lead judgement that was delivered by the Judge Rapporteur, Justice Koroma Mohamed Sengu, dismissed the Applicants’ allegation that their right to life as guaranteed under Article 4 of the ACPHR, was violated.

However, it ordered FG to pay each of tje Applicants the sum of N2million as compensation for violations of their security of person, prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, duty to investigate human rights violations, and right to effective remedy.

Additionally, it held that FG must adhere to its obligations under the ACPHR, by investigating and prosecuting its agents responsible for the violations.

The court ordered FG to within the next six months, report to it, measures taken to implement the judgment.

The Applicants had alleged that during the peaceful protests against the SARS Unit of the Nigerian Police Force at Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos State, on October 20 and 21, 2020, the Respondent, committed several human rights violations.

Triggered by the alleged killing of one Daniel Chibuike, the protests were aimed to address police harassment and brutality.

In the suit, the 1st Applicant, among other things, told the court that soldiers shot life amunitions at protesters, resulting in deaths and injuries, which she live-streamed.

She told the court that subsequently, she started receiving threatening phone calls that forced her not not only go into hiding, but to also seek asylum.

Likewise, the 2nd Applicant, who said she was responsible for the welfare of the protesters, described how soldiers began shooting after a power cut, leading to her hospitalisation due to excessive tear gas she inhaled.

On her part, the 3rd Applicant, narrated how she narrowly escaped being shot and how soldiers refused to allow ambulance to enter the protest ground to help the injured participants.

She further told the court that she later witnessed how the victims were neglected without the provision of adequate healthcare for them at the hospital.

The 3rd Applicant told the court that with the held of her colleagues, she eventually took over and started taking care of the victims.

She alleged that she faced numerous threats and was placed on surveillance by security agents.

Consequently, all the Applicants prayed the court to issue declaratory reliefs against FG and award compensation to them for the gross violations of their fundamental human rights.

Meanwhile, in processes it filed before the court, FG, through its team of lawyers, denied all the allegations and claims that were made by the Applicants.

It told the court that the protesters unlawfully assembled at Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020, under the guise of protesting against SARS.

FG also maintained that its agents followed strict rules of engagement and did not shoot or kill protesters.

It argued that the 1st Applicant incited the crowd by playing music and using her Instagram page to stir disaffection against law enforcement agents who were targeting escapee members of Boko Haram and bandits.

FG further contended that the 2nd  Applicant’s provision of logistics and welfare packages indicated her support for the violent protest.

It claimed that soldiers were present to restore peace until the police arrived, denying any harm inflicted on protesters and the alleged refusal to access to the ambulance.

More so, FG denied that the 3rd Applicant’s presence was peaceful, asserting it was meant to escalate violence.

It argued that the treatment and care of the injured were managed by the Lagos State government, insisting that the Applicants failed to provide credible evidence to support their claims and the reliefs the sought from the court.

In its judgment on Wednesday, the court held that it could not establish that there was violation of the right to life as the Applicants failed to adduce any evidence to that effect.

Nevertheless, it held that  several articles of the ACHPR were breached by the Respondent (FG), which occasioned fundamental breaches of human rights.

Furthermore, the Court said it was satisfied that the Applicants were denied the right to an effective remedy.

It ordered FG to make reparations to the Applicants for the violation of their fundamental human rights.

Other members of the panel that concurred with the lead judgement, were Justice Dupe Atoki who presided, and Justice Ricardo Claúdio Monteiro Gonçalves.

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