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Nigeria: Rape by police/security forces endemic

Publish Date: 03 Dec 2006

By Hilda Okoisor, Lagos

Nigeria: Rape. . . When Will Victims Get Justice?

Last week Amnesty International released a report in Lagos in which it indicted Nigerian security forces for committing rape in crisis situations. Hilda Okoisor examines the report and its implications.

Forcing women or girls to submit to sexual acts has been described as a form of gender-based violence against women. Reports say that rape causes severe physical and psychological pain and suffering. Rape also can have serious physical, psychological and reproductive consequences for the victims, including death, unwanted pregnancies, complications in childbirth, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.

The Nigerian Criminal code describes rape in Section 357 of the Criminal Code Act (Nigerian Laws Cap 38), applicable in the south of Nigeria, as: "Any person who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent, or with her consent. If the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm, or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act.

Or in the case of a married woman, by personating her husband, is guilty of an offence, which is called rape. Under Section 358, rape is punishable by life imprisonment, with the possible addition of caning".

The Penal Code (Nigerian Laws Cap 89), applicable in the north of Nigeria, criminalises both rape and "defilement" (rape of a girl under the age of 13 years). Rape is defined here as "a man is said to commit rape who, save in the case referred to in subsection (2), has sexual intercourse with a woman in any of the following circumstances - against her will; without her consent; with her consent, when her consent has been obtained by putting her in fear of death or hurt; with her consent, when the man knows that he is not her husband and that her consent is given because she believes that he is another man to whom she is or believes herself to be lawfully married and with or without her consent, when she is under fourteen years of age or of unsound mind."

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW) states that the term "violence against women" means 'any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.' DEVAW specifies that rape; marital rape and sexual abuse are forms of violence against women.

Recently, Amnesty International released a report, "Nigeria: Rape- the Silent Killer" by police and security forces in Nigeria. It stated that rape is endemic in Nigeria as is the abject failure of the Nigerian authorities to bring perpetrators to justice. In the report, Amnesty International found out that the Nigerian Police and security forces commit rape in many different circumstances, both on and off duty. "Rape is at times used strategically to coerce and intimidate entire communities", it said.

"Rape of women and girls by both the police and security forces, and within their homes and community, is acknowledged to be endemic in Nigeria - not only by human rights defenders but also by some government officials at both federal and state levels", it said.

The government, it added, however, is failing in its obligation to exercise due diligence: the perpetrators invariably escape punishment, and women and girls who have been raped are denied any form of redress for the serious crimes against them.

Kola Olaniyan, Africa Director at Amnesty International stated that the harsh reality is that if you are a woman or a girl in Nigeria who has suffered the terrible experience of being raped your suffering is likely to be met with intimidation by the police, indifference from the state and the knowledge that the perpetrator is unlikely to ever face justice", he said.

On the perpetrators, it stated that the testimonies of women who have been raped and reports by Nigerian human rights organisations identify the Nigerian Police and other members of the security forces, in particular the military, as the principal state actors responsible for rape.

The Director for Women's Affairs, it said within the Ministry for Women's Affairs told them in February 2006 that 'around 60 per cent of violence against women is committed in army barracks or police stations, according to research by non-governmental organisations'.

The Nigerian Police, the report said is notorious for persistent human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions and torture. In its findings, the international body received credible reports that women have been raped by the police in the street, while being transferred to police stations, while in police custody, or when visiting male detainees.

According to the report, when Amnesty International interviewed the Commissioners of Police in Lagos and Enugu States in January 2006, they demonstrated some understanding of the seriousness of the crime of rape in general.

The Lagos State Commissioner of Police, it said, when asked on how many reports on rape they have had, said they have no such reports. For Enugu State, they were noted to have said that rape by police has not happened. "The Commissioners of Police, on the other hand, pointed to an increased level of rape of young girls by men within the family and the local community. Amnesty International has, however, interviewed victims of rape where the perpetrators identified by the victims as members of the Nigerian Police, including in Enugu State", it stated.

The organisation, it added, has received many reports of rape by the police from human rights organisations throughout Nigeria, including Women's Aid Collective (WACOL), Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), Women's Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), and Project Alert as well as from the Nigerian media.

According to Uju Eneh, WACOL's acting director in Enugu State, inadequate reporting and investigation of rape by police officers was partly because "only really few of the police officers are willing to do something. Lots [of them] cover up for the others". The Lagos State Director of Public Prosecutions, it added also admitted to them in January 2006 that she has heard of cases where the police commit rape, but that no such cases were currently before her.

On the Nigerian security forces, the report said that security forces deployed in the Niger Delta by the Federal Government to restore law and order and protect oil production used rape as a counter-insurgency tactic and to intimidate the population. "The security forces used rape to humiliate and dehumanise women and their communities; to coerce them into divulging information about the whereabouts of certain individuals; to intimidate the community into submission; or as a collective punishment. Women have been held for several weeks in sexual slavery in military barracks and repeatedly raped", it said.

Amnesty International, it added, is not aware of a single case where the alleged perpetrator has been prosecuted. It notes that where sexual slavery is part of a 'widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population with knowledge of the attack', it is a crime against humanity in international law.

According to the report, in August 2005 the Federal Government constituted the Committee on the Review of Discriminatory Laws Against Women (CEDAW), which operated under the auspices of the National Human Rights Commission with a mandate to review discriminatory legislation, including in relation to rape. It submitted its final report to the Federal Minister of Justice on 16 May 2006.

CEDAW, it stated, sets out a detailed mandate to secure equality between women and men and to prohibit discrimination against women. "The definition of discrimination includes gender-based violence, that is, violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty".

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women stated in its general recommendation No. 19 that gender-based violence is a form of discrimination in which it requires its state parties to eliminate in all its forms.

On the law of rape in Nigeria, the report stated that the Nigerian authorities at both federal and state levels have failed to address adequately gender-based violence, including rape. "There is no federal or state legislation criminalising violence against women, and most bills initiated by non-governmental organisations on violence against women are still pending. Nor are current provisions relating to rape adequately enforced in the criminal justice system. These provisions are inadequate and outdated and urgent legislative reform is needed to ensure conformity with Nigeria's obligations under international human rights law", it noted.

International courts and tribunals, it said have affirmed that rape carried out by state agents can be a form of torture. The Nigerian government compounds these acts of torture by failing to exercise due diligence in bringing perpetrators to justice and by failing to offer women and girls any form of redress or reparation.

Amnesty International in its report mentioned that it met some of the women and girls who have been raped, some of whom have been abducted by the security forces in areas of the country where violence is rife, and has documented their harrowing experiences-most recently during visits to Nigeria in January and February 2006.

The testimonies collected by them lead to one uncompromising conclusion: that women and girls in Nigeria continue to be discriminated against in law and practice. This, it said is due to several factors: the social stigma attached to being a victim of rape discourages women from reporting the crime and very few cases of rape are brought to court.

Current legislation may penalise the woman or girl who has been raped rather than the perpetrator. Police investigations are hindered by corruption and incompetence and convictions are rare. There is no effective, independent mechanism for complaints against the police.

"Our report depicts the near total failure of the Nigerian state to protect women and girls from these terrible crimes. The Nigerian government has taken no meaningful action to translate its international legal obligations towards woman and girls into national law, policy and practice. It is now time that the state and federal authorities meet those obligations and offer real security and justice to women and girls in Nigeria", Olaniyan said.

A human rights lawyer, Ayo Obe when asked on her comment in the report stated that the Nigeria Police and Security Forces need to pay alot of attention than they have done in the past. She stated they should remember when Nigerians were accused of a similar offence in Liberia, the President of Liberia said that if the perpetrators were not caught in Liberia and they were back in Nigeria, then there was nothing anybody can do about the offence.

She added that the issue of the rape is something that Nigerians cannot afford to 'sweep under the carpet'. Saying that the most important thing is that the authorities need to make it less stressful for people to come forward and report such cases.

She further emphasised that when such cases are reported the police should take them seriously and prosecute those who are accused. This, she said, is important so that it becomes understood that such acts are unacceptable.

She noted that the culture in Nigeria now, is a culture where when such incidents as rape occur it is laughed off. "Just the same way so many issues that affect women are laughed off. Anybody who insists on taking up the issue is a bit of a bad spot. We need to get out of that mentality. It is important that whether at home or abroad, our forces should be able to clean up their acts", she stated.

She added that more female police officers should be put on the force. Also, that there is need to look at the way police officers are trained so that they understand that they have a way of treating victims with humility." For instance, cases where we have people accused of child abuse, they are protected in custody and such cases covered up. That mentality needs to get off from the thoughts of the security because this issue is more of a mentality issue", Obey said.

Mike Ozekhome, another human rights activist said that he did not agree with the Amnesty International report. He said he understands the issue of poor leadership and other problems of corruption. The pictures, he said of the Niger Delta where they had men exposing themselves, which people saw is as a result of unemployment. He added that most times the women bring it upon themselves by wearing provocative clothes.

On recommendations, Amnesty International report stated that their recommendation to the Nigerian authorities, judicial and legal officials, civil society groups and the international community is to initiate and support reforms of policy, law and practice in Nigeria in order to protect women and girls from rape and other forms of violence. The Federal Government, it said should state unambiguously that law, and initiate public education programs on ending violence against women prohibit rape and violence against women.

It recommended that these bodies should convey to all state actors that rape is a crime, which may amount to torture. They should ensure that all women who have been subjected to violence, including rape, have access to redress in the form of access to justice; and to reparations including compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

It also said that they should bring all perpetrators of gender-based violence, including rape, to justice in trials that conform to international fair trial standards and exclude the death penalty; and facilitate private criminal prosecutions by non-governmental organisations and others in cases of rape.

"Ensure that women human rights defenders are able to freely exercise their work without harassment, intimidation or hindrance", it said.

The state authorities, the report recommended, should systematically and comprehensively documents violence against women, including rape, and makes this information publicly available. They should urgently reform discriminatory legislation and ensure that all state legislation complies fully with Nigeria's obligations under international human rights law.

They should ensure that all women who have been subjected to violence, including rape, have access to redress, including compensation, rehabilitation and guarantees of non-repetition.

Initiate and support measures to protect women from rape and other forms of violence such as public education programmes, including dissemination and display of advice on reporting rape at hospitals, primary health care centres, pharmacies, community centres, courts and on relevant website, amongst others.

Amnesty International recommended that the Inspector General of Police of the Nigerian Police Force and heads of the security forces should systematically and comprehensively document all reports of gender-based violence, including rape, make this information publicly available, and submit it to both Federal and State governments, as well as the National Human Rights Commission.

They should promptly investigate all complaints of gender-based violence, including rape, and refer cases the appropriate judicial authority for prosecution. "They should immediately suspend from duty any police officer or member of other security forces alleged to have perpetrated a gender-based crime. Provide gender-sensitivity training to police officers and members of the security forces; such training should include protection of women from rape.

The judiciary and legal system, it recommended, should ensure that all cases of rape, in particular when the victim is a minor, are heard behind closed doors. Accept as forensic evidence medical reports from all qualified medical professionals, from both state-run and private hospitals and other health care facilities.

Civil society group, it said, should work to create an environment that supports women and addresses violence against women, including raising awareness through the media; building community structures and processes to protect women; and providing assistance to victims of violence. It also recommended that there should be demand that women be treated as equal members of the community, including having equal participation in decision-making in local government, customary legal systems and community structures.

The report called on religious bodies and traditional authorities to respect women's human rights and to denounce and desist from any action that encourages or tolerates violence against women in general and in the family specifically.

It also solicited for the need to combat negative images of women and work to challenge discriminatory attitudes that foster violence against women and girls, for example in the mass media, advertisements or school curricular. It also advocated for communities to work with those most affected to develop and implement local strategies to confront violence against women.

The international community, including the United Nations and African Union, the report emphasized should encourage and support Nigeria to implement fully all-international and regional treaties. declarations, resolutions and recommendations aimed at condemning, prohibiting and preventing all acts of violence against women.

Investigating all cases of violence and bringing perpetrators to justice in accordance with international standards of fair trial and without recourse to the death penalty, and providing reparations for victims.

They should also support and encourage initiatives by the Nigerian authorities, women's groups and human rights organisations in Nigeria to prevent rape and other forms of violence against women, including training and exchange of information for police officers, members of the security forces, lawyers, judges and other judicial officials.

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