Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) for introducing the petition today and all hon. Members for their incredibly powerful and passionate contributions on a crucial issue. I thank the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), for his comments, and the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Nigeria, my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), who has done so much to speak out on the atrocities and, long before they happened, on the wider SARS movement and the brutality that it has exposed.
We have heard incredibly powerful speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby), for West Ham (Ms Brown), for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) and for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), and indeed the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith). As has been pointed out, other hon. Members would have been here who have been speaking out equally powerfully on the issue.
I also thank the more than 200,000 individuals who have signed the petition and its creators, which includes many significant signatures from the Nigerian diaspora in the UK and many others who share deep concerns about what is happening in Nigeria and about wider human rights abuses around the world. This is not a country that will turn a blind eye when such atrocities happen. The scenes we have witnessed and the reports that have come out of Nigeria of the response by the police and the army against protesters in the #EndSARS movement have shocked us all.
We have heard from colleagues about the events of 20 October, when it appears a group of #EndSARS protesters were fired upon by members of the Nigerian army at the Lekki tollgate plaza, after the CCTV was taken down and the lights were turned off. That resulted in tragic deaths and injuries. I spoke to those who had been in the vicinity of those incidents, who saw and witnessed first hand the brutality meted out by SARS and those attempting to defend them. I can tell you, Mr Gray, that they were shocking testimonies. Many of us have witnessed the video footage and pictures of the events, which are absolutely horrific.
Despite having denied it for over a month, the Nigerian army has been forced to admit at the judicial panel inquiry that soldiers were deployed to the tollgate protest with both blank and live ammunition. As many hon. Members have pointed out, some of those protesters are still in detention today, and many others have had financial restrictions on them and other actions taken against them. I would be interested to know what assessment the Minister has made of the situation of those who were involved in those protests.
As hon. Members have explained, this massacre and the other atrocities that we have seen are part of a picture of brutality that has gone on over a number of years—extraordinary brutality and violations by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, known as SARS. The report from Amnesty International documented 82 cases of human rights violations between January 2017 and May 2020, including various methods of torture against detainees such as hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing victims into stressful bodily positions, sexual violence and rape.
That is a shocking record of behaviour, yet few of those cases have been investigated and hardly any officers have been brought to justice on credible accounts of torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities have promised investigations, but often they have not occurred. The Federal Government of Nigeria have repeatedly promised to reform SARS but have failed to do so. The recent protests originate not only in that record of brutality, but in other documented incidents across the country, in Delta and Oyo states. In recent days, I have received reports of extra-judicial killings, allegedly by the Nigerian army in Oyigbo in Rivers state. What assessment has the Minister made of the most recent reports? This is still carrying on after the shocking events we saw just a few weeks ago.
The violent repression of protesters in Nigeria is unacceptable and has rightly garnered international condemnation. President-elect Biden has called on the Nigerian Government to end the violent crackdown. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has said that Nigerians’ right to protest peacefully needs to be guaranteed and that police brutality needs to stop. The official Opposition absolutely agree with that sentiment. The violent crackdown on these protests must end and there must be accountability for those responsible for such brutality and loss of life.
The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), have made it clear that the UK must act as a force for good in the world, in line with our international partners and multinational organisations, whether the United Nations, the African Union, the UN Human Rights Council or others, to encourage and strongly advocate for the end of violence in Nigeria, to end police brutality in Nigeria and, crucially, to call for independent investigations into these violations by Nigerian policing, security and military forces. It would be better if we had confidence in the systems of investigation within Nigeria, but the ongoing failure and the record of the Nigerian Government in dealing with SARS underlines why many people do not have faith in that process. That is why independent investigations will be crucial.
The petition refers specifically to sanctions. The official Opposition welcome the Foreign Secretary’s establishment of a Magnitsky-style sanctions regime, which we have been calling for since 2018, to allow for targeted sanctions based on attacks on human rights, and to enable us to target the wider network of perpetrators, including all of those who facilitate, incite, promote or support such crimes. That extends beyond state officials to non-state actors, as well.
At that time, the Foreign Secretary told us in the House that those sanctions would be used to target
“those with blood on their hands.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 663.]
It is clear that individuals do have blood on their hands in relation to the activities of SARS and these atrocities over the past few months. Given the allegations against members of SARS and the growing evidence of the atrocities that were committed, we urge the UK Government to use their full investigative capacity, including by drawing on the evidence provided by independent human rights organisations in Nigeria and elsewhere, to identify individuals responsible for those atrocities and, if appropriate, designate them for sanctions under our Magnitsky regime. We cannot stand by in the face of such wilful perpetration of human rights violations and killings. Not least given our close political, economic and security relationship with Nigeria, we cannot be a disinterested or unconnected party.
I turn now to the UK’s role in relation to SARS. We have heard about this from a number of hon. Members in the debate. Despite initially denying it, the Minister for Africa has admitted that through the conflict, stability and security fund in Nigeria, SARS members were trained as part of the Nigeria policing programme and that the UK Government have been involved in training of members of SARS, despite that happening during a time when there were ongoing public, well-known allegations of extrajudicial executions, extortion, torture and rape by this unit. I am sorry to say that although this is shocking, it is not an entirely unexpected revelation to me. It is also not surprising—I have the review of the programme here—that this programme was led by the Foreign Office rather than the Department for International Development.
UK support for security and justice reform in countries around the world can have positive impacts, but what is absolutely obvious is that in a growing number of cases, it is not clear what impact we are having or whether, in the worst cases, we are actually supporting agencies that have a role in committing atrocities or human rights violations. What we are discussing today is just one example. Whether it is this example, the ongoing supplying of arms to the Saudi Arabian Government for use in the Yemen crisis or the training of the special investigation unit in Bahrain, which has been complicit in the torture of prisoners—of course, that country uses the death penalty—the UK Government are having to repeatedly come and justify their involvement with organisations and institutions that appear to breach our own standards, let alone international law and human rights.
Can the Minister tell me whether she has considered suspending support and training for such programmes for Nigerian security, military and justice institutions until she is absolutely satisfied that they are not supporting individuals and organisations that have been implicated in these atrocities, and will the Government commit to a review of the effectiveness of OSJA—overseas security and justice assistance—projects? It was extraordinary to find, while reading the summary, that the programme was listed as scoring an A and an A in 2018-19 and to read that the risk was only medium. That sounds completely out of kilter with the facts that we have heard today and have been hearing for many years.
Looking beyond Nigeria, given the deeply concerning news coming from locations across Africa in recent weeks, what measures are the Government taking to protect human rights across the continent and to tackle those responsible, whether it is those responsible for atrocities in Ethiopia, those who are involved in suppressing the democratic process in Tanzania and Uganda, or whoever? We cannot have impunity for those causing or carrying out atrocities or war crimes, whatever their role or status, whether that is official or unofficial—whether they are official Government forces, official military forces, or irregular forces who are acting on behalf of different groups, and whether those are central Government, regional government or rebel groups. It does not matter who they are—we cannot have impunity for the people who are carrying out these atrocities.
It appears to be a double irony that we are seeing support for wrong programmes like this one when the Government, we hear, are proposing to cut the right programmes; they are proposing to cut the 0.7% target and support to development and peace programmes across the world. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that that will not happen.
From the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA to the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria, it is clear that any democratic Government must respond to the needs first and foremost of their citizens in providing policing and security. They must be accountable to the people they serve and not hold themselves above the law. They must defend the law and conduct themselves in line with the principles and values that underpin it. We stand on the side of all those in Nigeria who are calling for peace, for democracy and for the rule of law to be upheld. Killings must end. Democracy and the rule of law must prevail, and the UK should be a partner to all Nigerians seeking peace, justice and development.