Amnesty International has asked the Nigerian government to release those who have been subjected to enforced disappearance in the country.
In a statement issued on Thursday to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the human rights group accused the government of holding several persons in secret detention facilities without charge or trial across the country.
“So many families are still searching for loved ones who have not been seen for many years,” the Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said. “In some cases, families live with the pain of not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead.”
She added, “It’s time the government did the right thing – and either release these detainees or charge them with a recognisable criminal offence in a fair trial without recourse to death penalty.”
Ojigho accused the government of using enforced disappearance as a tactic to “silence critics and instil fear” in civilian populations whom she said were facing the double threat of armed groups and military operations.
According to her, some detainees have been held incommunicado for about nine years without access to their family or lawyers.
She added that others have received court judgements ordering their release from custody, but security agencies have continued to defy the orders.
Using the case of a journalist, Abiri Jones, who was detained for more than two years without trial, the director said, “At the beginning, the government denied detaining him, only to later release him following pressure from civil society organizations.”
“It is unacceptable that many families are going through the same turmoil Abiri’s family went through,” she decried.
Ojigho said according to figures provided by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), the fate of at least 600 of their members has been unknown since the Shiites clashed with the military in December 2015 in Zaria.
She alleged that several people suspected of being associated with Boko Haram, Niger Delta agitators, and pro-Biafra activists in the country were arbitrarily arrested and detained by the Department of State Services (DSS) in recent years.
“Although the new leadership of the DSS has started releasing some detainees, the authorities must ensure that the hundreds of other detainees are quickly released or charged in court,” she said.
“We call on the Nigerian government, as a matter of urgency, to end unlawful arrests and incommunicado detentions.
“Enforced disappearance is an instrument of intimidation that grossly violates human rights. It is unacceptable and must stop,” Ojigho added.
She asked the government to ensure that victims and their families were told the truth and that they were provided with full and effective reparation to address the harm they have suffered.