ECOWAS court finds FG guilty of rights violation during #EndSARS protest

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 response to the #EndSARS protest in October 2020.


The court ruled on Wednesday that the Nigerian government’s actions, particularly its disproportionate use of force at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, breached several international human rights standards, including articles 1, 5, 6, 9, 10, and 11 of the African charter on human and peoples’ rights.


The court mandates the Nigerian government to pay N2 million in compensation to each victim named in the suit.


The applicants, Obianuju Catherine Udeh (popularly known as DJ Switch), Perpetual Kamsi, and Dabiraoluwa Adeyinka, alleged several violations occurred during the peaceful protests at the Lekki tollgate on October 20 and 21, 2020.


The first applicant (DJ Switch) claimed that protesters were shot by soldiers, resulting in deaths and injuries, which she live-streamed.


The applicant also claimed she started receiving threatening phone calls that forced her into hiding and eventual asylum.


The second applicant, who was responsible for the protesters’ welfare, told the court how soldiers began shooting after a power cut, leading to her hospitalisation due to police tear gas.


The third applicant related how she barely escaped being shot, how soldiers refused to let an ambulance in, and how she later saw victims receive subpar treatment in the hospital.


The third candidate related how he barely avoided being shot, how soldiers refused to let an ambulance in, and how he later saw victims receive subpar treatment in the hospital.


She submitted that after taking over the victims’ care with her colleagues, she began to get threats and was constantly under surveillance by the respondent’s operatives.


The applicants asked the court to grant them declaratory relief as well as monetary damages for these infractions.


However, the respondent had denied all claims made by the applicants, asserting that the protesters unlawfully assembled at Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020, under the guise of protesting against the now-defunct special anti-robbery squad (SARS) unit of the Nigeria police.


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


The respondent argued that DJ Switch 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.


The federal government legal team further contended that the second applicant’s provision of logistics and a welfare package to protesters indicated her support for the violent protest.


The team also said the treatment and care of the injured were managed by the Lagos state government, adding that the applicants did not provide credible evidence to support their claims or the reliefs sought.


Koroma Mohamed Sengu, the judge rapporteur, who delivered the judgment, said the court dismissed the allegation that the right to life as guaranteed under Article 4 of the ACPHR is violated.


However, the court found the government guilty for violations of the applicants’ rights to 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.


The three-member panel of the court directed that the respondent must adhere to its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, investigate and prosecute its agents responsible for these violations, and report to the court within six months on the measures taken to implement this judgment.


The other justices are Dupe Atoki and Ricardo Claúdio Monteiro Gonçalves.


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