The Nigeria Police Force has rejected the latest report of Amnesty International in which the group accused the Special Anti-Robbery Squad [SARS]of torturing detainees and demanding bribes to free them.
The Police said the report in its entirety was “misleading, a clear misrepresentation of facts, unverified accounts and absolute distortion of the current situation in Special Anti-Robbery Squad [SARS] throughout the country.”
Amnesty International had, in report titled “In Nigeria: You have signed your death warrant,” said SARS, set up to combat crime had instead been systematically torturing detainees in its custody as a means of extracting confessions and lucrative bribes.
The report, released on Monday, said former detainees confessed they were subjected to horrific torture method, including hanging, starvation, beatings, shootings and mock executions, at the hands of corrupt officers from SARS.
The research was conducted by a Nigerian researcher with AI, Damian Ugwu.
The police, in a statement on Thursday by its spokesperson, Don Awunah, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, said the report was evidently the characteristic mind-set and pattern of Amnesty International to deride and castigate public institutions especially in developing countries like Nigeria.
It said Mr. Ugwu’s choice of words in describing the operations of SARS portrayed the researcher’s apparent ignorance of the rules of engagement of special police unit and the laws regulating criminal investigation in Nigeria.
According to the police, the researcher deliberately misconstrued the cautionary words, a prerequisite for suspects to sign before voluntary statement is taken from them as “death warrant.”
“For avoidance of doubt, word of caution is in accordance to Judges Rule 5, which states that, “I have decided to make complaint against you in the court of law, do you wish to say anything?” the statement said.
“You are not obliged to say anything but remember that whatever you say shall be taken down in writing and may be given in evidence”.
“The Nigerian Lawyers and the court system are aware of these words of caution but to Amnesty International, it translates to “death warrant,” the police said.
The police said it had in place a functional and pragmatic disciplinary measure against erring officers and men, and had charged to court some of its officers involved in proven cases of violations of rights of suspects in detention.
It said the facts were available for verification.
It said its officers were committed to upholding the fundamental Human Rights of every Nigerian as enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Nigeria constitution and also in accordance to Africa Charter of Rights and UN Declaration of Human Rights.
It said, “Our guiding principles are democratic policing and International best practices in criminal investigation.”
The police said as an institution, it does not tolerate or condone torture in any form.
It further stated that upon assumption of office, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, conducted an audit of SARS rules of engagement and in a follow up reorganisation ensured that it conformed to International best practices in criminal investigation, Technology/ICT driven investigation techniques, technical platforms to aid detectives and ICT drive investigation.
The IGP, according to the statement, also ensured SARS conducted team-based investigation, established Human Rights Desk Officers mentoring and monitoring regime and Ministry of Justice oversight supervision.
The police said it had been working with critical groups in the criminal justice system in the country and other local and international NGOs and partners including foreign embassies and international human rights organisations to train and retrain police personnel to conform to international best practices on care and custody of detainees in its detention facilities across the country.
“It must be pointed out that suspects/detainees in police detention facilities generally have unfettered access to legal practitioners of choice, access to relatives at regulated time and care,” the statement said.
On the feeding and medical attention for detainees, the police said it was the practice throughout its detention facilities across the country that detainees were fed by police food contractors on reasonable meals on daily bases while medical attention was promptly given to those who fell sick while in detention before they were taken to court.
The force said the IGP approved the visit of AI to SARS facilities in Abuja, Akwuzu in Anambra State and Enugu in Enugu State in June upon request by the AI to visit the facilities.
It said apart from giving the AI team unguided access to the facilities, both organisations also agreed to a roundtable discussion to avail the police the right of reply and verify facts on September 20.
“In contrast, the Amnesty International with a predetermined motive reneged on the agreement but released an abridged report before 20th September, 2016 and pretentiously published the report on the date agreed to discuss the findings and harmonise facts,” the police said.
“The bone of contention therefore is who is fooling who? Can Amnesty International and its orchestrated report be trusted? The obvious answer is NO.”
The police urged Nigerians and the International community “to discountenance and disregard the so called Amnesty report on Police torture in Nigeria as a clear demonstration of mischief and calculated attempt to promote a campaign of calumny and hidden agenda of suppressing growth and development in countries like Nigeria.”
It said the IGP reassured Nigerians and the international community that the police would continue to discharge its statutory functions according to all known laws and regulations despite obvious distractions.
The police also said it was “determined to adhere to principles of International Police reforms, conform to standard discipline and rewards system, building trust and confidence in the citizenry and will not condone torture and other ill treatment of suspects in the Special Anti-Robbery Squad [SARS] detention or any of its detention facility throughout the country.”