The UN human rights chief on Thursday urged bold efforts by Nigeria’s political and religious leaders to end sectarian violence in the country.
“It is essential that the country’s leadership, and especially its Muslim and Christian leaders, join forces to unequivocally condemn all forms of violence, including retaliation, and encourage their followers to identify and help arrest all those involved in killings and other acts of violence that have been taking place,’’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said.
She urged the country’s leaders “to speak with one voice, and act resolutely to stop an already highly dangerous situation from spiraling out of control,” adding that the religious tolerance that had been a central tenet of the nation was being threatened.
“Everybody will be the loser if Boko Haram succeeds in its aim and efforts to sow discord between Muslim and Christian, or pit Northerner against Southerner.
“The fact that people are already leaving some areas where they are in a minority, out of fear of attacks by the majority, shows just how dangerous this is becoming for the country as a whole. Anyone inciting violence or hatred must be held accountable, no matter who they are,” she said.
Ms. Pillay also said that it was vital for security forces to respect human rights, and avoid excessive use of force, when conducting operations so as not to stoke further tensions and resentment.
The Rights leader noted that members of Boko Haram and other groups, “if judged to have committed widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population on the grounds of religion or ethnicity could be found guilty of crimes against humanity.”
According to her, deliberate acts leading to population “cleansing” on the grounds of religion or ethnicity would also amount to a crime against humanity.
The High Commissioner expressed concern about the recent loss of lives during protests over the removal of fuel subsidies, and urged the authorities to carry out transparent, independent, impartial and thorough investigations into the events.
“The Government of Nigeria has a duty to ensure that all its security personnel avoid use of excessive force and investigate whether or not all necessary precautions were taken before members of the security forces resorted to the use of live ammunition.
“At this critical juncture, the authorities at all levels need to earn the respect and support of the general public by scrupulously observing human rights, and showing they too are accountable for any excesses,” Ms. Pillay said.