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UN human rights chief urges bold effort by Nigerias leaders to end sectarian violence

12 January 2012 – The United Nations human rights chief today urged a bold effort by Nigeria’s political and religious leaders 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,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a news release.

She 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,” adding that the religious tolerance that has been a central tenet of the nation is 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,” she said. “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.”

Ms. 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.

She also 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.

In addition, 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,” she added.



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