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Pillay urges concerted effort by Nigerian leaders to halt spiralling sectarian violence

12 January 2012

GENEVA – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Thursday urged Nigerian national, local, religious and opinion leaders to make a bold and concerted effort to halt the spiralling sectarian violence unleashed by a series of recent attacks by the Boko Haram group.

“It is essential that the country’s leadership, and especially its Muslim and Christian leaders, join forces to unequivocally condemn all 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,” Pillay said.

While acknowledging that some religious leaders and politicians had already made such calls, the High Commissioner urged the country’s leaders “to speak with one voice, and act resolutely to stop an already highly dangerous situation from spiralling out of control.”

“One day it is a church congregation that is being targeted, the next day it is a mosque, and the day after that it is some secular target,” she said. “The religious tolerance that has been a central tenet of Nigeria’s Federation is being threatened, and I urge all Nigeria’s leaders to avoid falling into the trap of calling for, or sanctioning, retaliation or making other provocative statements. 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.”

Pillay also said it was vital that the security forces respect human rights, and avoid excessive use of force, when conducting operations so as not to stoke further tensions and resentment among local inhabitants. “I appreciate what an extremely difficult task the Government is facing,” Pillay said. “However, the police and other security forces should act with a sense of responsibility and respect for the rule of law in order to avoid making a bad situation even worse.”

The High Commissioner noted that "members of Boko Haram and other groups and entities, if judged to have committed widespread or systematic attacks against a civilian population – including on grounds such as religion or ethnicity -- could be found guilty of crimes against humanity. Deliberate acts leading to population “cleansing” on grounds of religion or ethnicity would also amount to a crime against humanity," she added. The High Commissioner recalled that it is for this reason that the International Criminal Court was created as a back-up mechanism to the efforts and willingness of national authorities to ensure that there is accountability.

“There must be no impunity for any acts of violence, including those committed in retaliation for earlier attacks,” Pillay said.

The High Commissioner expressed concern about the recent loss of life 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 all its security personnel avoid use of excessive force and to investigate whether or not all necessary precautions were taken before members of the security forces resorted to the use of live ammunition,” she said. “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.”

ENDS

For more information or media enquiries, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org).

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