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UN chief calls for end to reported police brutality in Nigeria

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Nigerians protest in Lagos over the now-disbanded and discredited police unit, known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS. Unsplash/Tobi Oshinnaike

The UN Secretary-General on Wednesday said he was closely following recent developments across Nigeria, in the wake of reports that protesters had been shot dead and wounded, and called for “an end to reported police brutality and abuses.” 

António Guterres said in a statement issued by his Spokesperson, that he condemned “the violent escalation on 20 October in Lagos which resulted in multiple deaths and caused many injuries.” 

According to witnesses, Nigerian security forces opened fire on Tuesday night in Africa’s largest city, as protests continued over a now-disbanded and discredited police unit, known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS. 

The Government has pledged to carry out further police reforms, and improve police accountability.  

A curfew has been imposed on Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, with reports that tensions continued into Wednesday, with police across the city firing shots in the air, in an effort to disperse protesters who were defying the order to stay off the streets. 

The UN chief expressed his condolences to the families of the bereaved, and wished a speedy recovery to those injured.  

Act with ‘maximum restraint’, demonstrate peacefully 

He called on Nigerian authorities “to investigate these incidents and hold the perpetrators accountable.” 

Mr. Guterres also urged security forces “to act at all times with maximum restraint while calling on protestors to demonstrate peacefully and to refrain from violence.” 

“The Secretary-General encourages the authorities to swiftly explore avenues to de-escalate the situation”, the statement continued. “He reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to support national efforts towards finding a solution.”

‘Root and branch’ examination of security forces needed: Rights chief

The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet on Wednesday, also strongly condemned the excessive and disproportionate force by Nigerian armed forces in Lagos, in a statement issued by her office, OHCHR.

She called on the Nigerian authorities to take urgent steps to deal decisively with the underlying problem of persistent violations committed by security forces, and make a far stronger effort to bring police and army personnel guilty of crimes against civilians to justice.

“While the number of casualties of yesterday’s shooting at the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos is still not clear, there is little doubt that this was a case of excessive use of force, resulting in unlawful killings with live ammunition, by Nigerian armed forces,” Ms. Bachelet said.

“Reports that CCTV cameras and lighting were deliberately disabled prior to the shooting are even more disturbing as, if confirmed, they suggest this deplorable attack on peaceful protestors was premeditated, planned and coordinated.”

‘Already at boiling point’

The High Commissioner noted that the country “was already at boiling point before this shooting because of the revelations about years of unchecked violence, including alleged killings, rape, extortion and other violations, by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.

“While the authorities have now dissolved SARS and announced a series of inquiries at both Federal and State levels, there have still been few if any charges levelled against its members despite abundant evidence against various members of the squad, as well as members of other security forces and the army.”

She said the continued protests are several weeks of demonstrations, was evidence that there was no public trust in the authorities’ response thus far:

“I appreciate that the Government has taken a number of measures to address the protestors’ demands,” Ms. Bachelet said. “However, the immediate creation of another elite police SWAT team to replace the SARS – without first addressing some of the root causes of police violence and putting in place sufficient safeguards to prevent future violations – has eroded the public’s trust even further. This latest terrible event in Lagos is like wantonly adding fuel to a fire that was already starting to rage out of control.”

‘Immediate concrete steps’

She added that the authorities needed to take immediate concrete steps to show they are genuinely committed to tackling impunity, after years of inaction.

“There need to be immediate, independent, transparent and thorough investigations, not just into last night’s killings, but also into all the previous violations committed by security forces…Those appointed to carry out such investigations must not only be independent and impartial, but must be widely perceived as such. And, where sufficient evidence already exists to warrant charges, immediate suspension of officers – including senior officers – suspected of committing serious crimes, should take place long before the conclusion of such investigations.”

She said now was the time for “a root and branch re-examination of the entire security sector, and of its civilian oversight…This should include a full-scale review of rules of engagement and training systems and methods.”

Ms. Bachelet also called for immediate investigations into reports of violent and provocative attacks on peaceful protestors by unidentified groups armed with cudgels, cutlasses, sticks or guns, in some cases apparently with the overt backing of police or other security forces.

Fundamental rights

“Nigerians, like everyone else, have a fundamental right to peaceful assembly and protest,” the High Commissioner said.  “The Government has a responsibility to take positive measures to ensure the realization of this right, including deterring others who intend to prevent them from protesting peacefully. The world’s attention is now focused sharply on how Nigeria’s Government and security forces react over the coming days and weeks.”

“In a population with such a young median age, it is important to listen to the grievances of the younger generation and make an effort to address the multiple problems they face, which include – but are far from confined to – police brutality and violations.”

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Africa Today

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Industry, UNIDO sign €2m agreement

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Ethiopia’s Ministry of Industry and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) have signed a €2m agreement to support Integrated Agro-Industrial Parks (IAIPs), funded by the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation. Thes agreement will contribute to the development of the agro-industrial sector and the creation of decent jobs and economic opportunities in the rural areas of Ethiopia. The objective of the new project is to support the inclusive and sustainable development of four pilot IAIPs. Project activities will concentrate on increasing private sector involvement in agro-industry, improving food quality, safety and traceability, and promoting social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

With the support of UNIDO, the Government of Ethiopia has prioritized the establishment of the IAIPs as a primary tool to achieve agricultural modernization and rural industrialization in the country. To this end, the Government of Ethiopia has mobilized various funding sources and development partners for the implementation of IAIPs. The current project is for the development of the four pilot IAIPs, located in Oromia (Bulbula), Sidama (Yirgalem), Amhara (Bure) and Tigray (Beaker). The project is funded by the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation, in alignment with the Italian strategy outlined in the Ethio-Italian country framework 2017 – 2019 which encourages sustainable and inclusive economic growth to ensure full employment and decent work for all, especially in rural areas, as well as promoting partnerships between Italian and Ethiopian institutions to ensure continuity of investment and transfer of technologies.

The signature ceremony was attended by Shisema Gebreselassie, State Minister of the Ministry of Industry, Aurelia Patrizia Calabrò, UNIDO Representative and Director of the Regional Office Hub, and Isabella Lucaferri, Head of the AICS Addis Ababa Office.  

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Sudan: Looting in Darfur, leaves 730,000 without enough to eat

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UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran. UN Photo/Albert González Farran

The UN chief condemned on Wednesday the looting and attacks against United Nations facilities, equipment and supplies gifted to the Sudanese authorities for civilian in El Fasher, Darfur. 

Last Tuesday evening, a World Food Programme (WFPwarehouse located in the Borsa area of El Fasher town, the capital of North Darfur State, came under attack from unknown armed groups. 

Over 1,900 metric tons of food commodities that were meant to feed 730,000 vulnerable people for a month were stolen. 

The incident followed the looting and reported violence last week at the former UN-African Union Hybrid Operation (UNAMID) base in El Fasher. 

Restore order 

In his statementSecretary-General António Guterres called upon the Government of Sudan to restore order.  

He stressed that the authorities must ensure that former UNAMID property and assets are strictly used for civilians – in conformity with the Framework Agreement the Government signed in March.  

The UN chief also asked the Sudanese authorities to facilitate the safe working environment and passage for remaining UN operations in the region. 

He concluded by thanking the UN civilian and uniformed personnel who remain on the ground under “challenging” circumstances. 

WFP cuts off aid

WFP chief David Beasley tweeted his outrage over the “senseless attacks” in El Fasher and strongly condemned the continued looting and destruction of the agency’s assets.  

“As a result, we have been forced to suspend WFP operations in North Darfur, effective immediately”, said Mr. Beasly.

The theft has robbed nearly two million Sudanese of the food and nutritional support they so desperately need.  

“Not only is this a tremendous setback to WFP operations, but it endangers our staff and jeopardizes our ability to meet the needs of the most vulnerable families”, he added.

Humanitarian crisis 

The Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Khardiata Lo N’diaye, also condemned the looting.  

“This was food assistance meant for Sudan’s most vulnerable people. Humanitarian assistance should never be a target”, she underscored. 

Currently, one in three people in Sudan needs humanitarian assistance – equivalent to an estimated 14.3 million individuals.  

According to the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan, 25 per cent of those people require food security and livelihoods support. 

An attack like this, the coordinator explained, severely impedes the ability to deliver to the people who need it the most. 

“We urgently ask all parties to adhere to humanitarian principles and allow the safe delivery of life-saving assistance”, Ms. N’diaye stated. 

WFP currently faces “unprecedented” funding shortfalls, estimated at $358 million. 

Violence 

Earlier in the month, thousands of people took to the streets to mark the third anniversary of the uprising that led to the April 2019 overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled for three decades.  

Demonstrators who made for the presidential palace were also protesting October’s military coup and the political agreement signed later on 21 November.  

UN officials and agencies expressed deep concern at the time over credible reports of serious human rights violations, including the use of rape and gang rape of women and girls, employed to disperse protesters.  

As of 29 December, the security situation had been restored, according to State authorities.  

Ms. N’diaye thanked the local authorities for preventing the situation from worsening but called upon the Government to step up efforts to protect and safeguard humanitarian premises and assets. 

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Thousands head home voluntarily from Zambia to DR Congo

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photo: © UNHCR/Rocco Nuri

Nearly 5,000 refugees who fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) four years ago, are opting to head home voluntarily from Zambia over the coming months, with the first 100 people setting out on Tuesday. 

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said that security had improved sufficiently in DR Congo’s Pweto territory, Haut-Katanga province, for them to go home “in safety and dignity”.

Inter-ethnic clashes as well as fighting between Congolese security forces and militia groups in parts of southeastern DRC in 2017, have uprooted communities. 

Through intention surveys carried out in October by UNHCR, some 4,774 refugees expressed their aim to voluntarily return to DRC.

International agreement

The voluntary repatriation, which will continue into 2022, is part of the ongoing 2006 tripartite agreement between UNHCR and the Governments of Zambia and DR Congo.

Partners are supporting the returning refugees by providing voluntary repatriation documents, expedited immigration clearance, health screening and school certificates to allow children to resume their education in the DRC.

“As security has improved in some areas of Haut-Katanga, an estimated 20,000 refugees have spontaneously left Zambia since 2018 to return to their areas of origin – mainly to Pweto territory”, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told journalists in Geneva.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency is working with authorities and development partners – such as Catholic aid confederation CARITAS – in DRC to advance reintegration projects, including education, health and agriculture, and to ensure conditions for safe and dignified returns.

Currently, some 18,000 Congolese refugees farm at Mantapala settlement – established in early 2018 to accommodate displaced people – alongside 5,000 Zambians, across 11 integrated villages.

As Zambia continues to host 103,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and former refugees, including more than 63,000 from DR Congo, over the past three years around 20,000 Congolese have left to return home.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Food Programme (WFP) are assisting in repatriation efforts.

Agency support

The two agencies have provided buses and trucks to help transport refugees, their belongings and food for the journey, Families will receive a cash grant to help them pick up their lives again in the DRC.

“UNHCR will disinfect the buses, provide face masks, hand sanitizers and, together with the authorities, ensure that COVID-19 prevention measures are observed, including loading of buses to half the capacity”, Mr. Baloch said.

UNICEF has improved water and sanitation facilities at the reception centre in Chiengi district, where returning refugees are being housed for the night to process immigration documents, before embarking on the final leg of their journey home.

And Zambian authorities are providing rapid COVID-19 tests for the returning refugees, at the Mantapala Rural Health Centre.

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