ECOWAS Court Condemns Nigerian Government for Human Rights Violations During #EndSARS Protests

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) community court of justice has found the federal government of Nigeria guilty of human rights abuses in its handling of the #EndSARS protests in October 2020.
In a ruling delivered on Wednesday, the court determined that the Nigerian government’s excessive use of force at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos violated multiple international human rights standards, specifically articles 1, 5, 6, 9, 10, and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. As a result, the court ordered the Nigerian government to pay N2 million in compensation to each victim named in the suit.
The applicants, Obianuju Catherine Udeh (known as DJ Switch), Perpetual Kamsi, and Dabiraoluwa Adeyinka, cited numerous rights violations during the peaceful protests on October 20 and 21, 2020. DJ Switch claimed that soldiers opened fire on protesters, resulting in casualties, which she live-streamed. She also reported receiving threatening phone calls, forcing her into hiding and eventually seeking asylum.
Perpetual Kamsi, responsible for the protesters’ welfare, testified that soldiers began shooting after a power outage, which led to her hospitalization due to police tear gas. Dabiraoluwa Adeyinka recounted narrowly escaping being shot, soldiers blocking ambulances, and victims receiving inadequate medical care. She stated that after taking over the victims’ care, she began receiving threats and was under constant surveillance by government operatives.
The applicants requested declaratory relief and monetary damages for these infractions. However, the Nigerian government denied all claims, asserting that the protesters unlawfully assembled at the Lekki Toll Gate under the guise of protesting against the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigeria Police. The government argued that its agents adhered to strict engagement rules and did not shoot or kill protesters. They also accused DJ Switch of inciting the crowd through her music and Instagram posts and contended that Perpetual Kamsi’s logistical support to protesters indicated her backing of a violent protest.
The federal government’s legal team maintained that the treatment of the injured was managed by the Lagos State Government and claimed the applicants did not provide credible evidence for their claims or the reliefs sought.
Judge Rapporteur Koroma Mohamed Sengu, who delivered the judgment, stated that the court dismissed the allegation of violating the right to life as guaranteed under Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. However, the court found the government guilty of violating the applicants’ rights to security, prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment, freedom of expression, assembly, and association, duty to investigate human rights violations, and the right to effective remedy.
The court, comprising Justices Dupe Atoki and Ricardo Cláudio Monteiro Gonçalves, directed the Nigerian government to comply with its obligations under the African Charter, investigate and prosecute responsible agents, and report back to the court within six months on the measures taken to implement this judgment.
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